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Early Action Vs. Early Decision

If your child already knows which college he or she wants to attend, applying early may be a good idea. According to collegeboard.com, students who apply early may have a better chance of acceptance than regular-decision applicants. An early application demonstrates strong interest, and admissions officers want students in their schools who want to be there.

There are three types of early application plan: Early Decision, Single Choice Early Action, and Multi Choice Early Action. Each plan is detailed below to help your family make an informed decision.


Early Decision allows students to apply to college earlier than other applicants. Students who are accepted are obligated to enroll. For a look at which schools have the highest Early Decision acceptance numbers, read this article from usnews.com.


Early Action also gives students the chance to apply early, but those who are accepted do not necessarily have to enroll. Students may choose single choice or multi choice early action, the latter of which enables them to apply to other schools under the same plan.


Under both Early Decision and Early Action, students apply in November and receive an acceptance, rejection, or wait-list notification in mid-December. This table illustrates the plans' similarities and differences:

  Early Decision Single Choice Early Action Multi Choice Early Action
Benefit to student Can ensure spot in chosen school before others have applied. Can ensure spot in chosen school while student awaits word about other applications. Can ensure spot in more than one institution before others have applied.
Applying early to other schools Not allowed Not allowed Allowed
Applying regular acceptance to other schools Allowed Allowed Allowed
Acceptance Type Binding Not binding Not binding

Sources: bestcollegesonline.com and collegeboard.com.


Rolling Admissions
If Early Decision and Early Action aren't for your student, many schools also offer rolling admissions. These institutions will accept applications at any time, and the sooner your child applies, the sooner he or she will hear about acceptance. Rolling admissions plans resemble regular admissions in that students may apply to any other institution under any other kind of plan, without being bound to accept an offer.

 

Points to Remember

  • Not all colleges offer Early Decision or Early Action. Collegeboard.com provides a comprehensive list of many institutions and their offerings. Please keep in mind that admissions procedures can vary among schools; students should be sure to check with their schools of choice to ensure they're following the correct guidelines.
  • Collegeboard.com recommends that students be absolutely sure about a school before applying for Early Decision or Early Action. If your student is hesitant about any aspect of a particular college, it may be best to apply on the regular schedule and do a little more fact-finding.
  • If financial aid is a major issue, Early Decision is not a good choice, says collegeboard.com. Applying Early Action or regular decision will give your student the chance to weigh different benefits packages before making a choice. According to this New York Times article, it is possible to get out of an early decision commitment for financial reasons, but it's best to play it safe.
  • Applying Early Decision to a “reach” school-a college that might be a stretch for your child, based on average GPA and test scores of admitted students-is a good idea, as it can slightly raise admissions chances. If a school is way out of a student's league, however, applying Early Decision won't help, according to this forbes.com article. To help your child gauge which schools are “reaches,” visit StudyPoint's College and University Profiles.
  • If your student needs more time to bring up his or her GPA, or wants to highlight senior-year extracurriculars on the application, regular decision may be the best option.


Things to Do Early
If your child is considering Early Action or Early Decision, here's a “must do” list for the summer and fall of senior year:

  • Visit campuses. If you haven't yet seen your child's top-choice schools, now is the time!
  • Register for the SAT. If your student plans to take the SAT during senior year, he or she must do so in October to ensure that scores are available for Early Admission and Early Decision.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, and mentors.
  • Research financial-aid options. Early applicants may be required to submit certain forms sooner than regular applicants.
  • Prepare applications for other schools. Even if your child's regular-decision deadlines aren't until 2012, completing and submitting all applications at once will wrap up the admissions process in one fell swoop!

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