Should Your Child Apply Early Action or Early Decision to College?


Applying early action and early decision has become an increasingly popular practice among teenagers who are aiming for highly selective colleges and universities.

Today I am happy to share with you a post written on this important topic by Peter Van Buskirk, a former admission dean,  higher-ed speaker and educational advocate for families. You can learn more about Peter by visiting his website at The Admission Game and his college blog.

In my next college blog post, I will share more of Peter’s thoughts on applying to a a college through early decision.

Early Action (EA): What Is It?

Applying to a college Early Action allows students the opportunity to submit credentials to some highly selective colleges in return for notification ahead of the Regular Decision process. The big difference: students who choose this option are not presumed to be declaring a first-choice interest in the colleges to which they apply Early Action.

As a result, they are not committed to enroll if admitted and may, in some cases, apply EA to multiple schools. That said, a handful of institutions offer EA as a restrictive, “single choice” option that prohibits students from applying EA to any other school. Be sure to read the fine print regarding each institution’s EA program.

EA Inside the Numbers

If you are still thinking selectivity and rankings, you are right on the mark! While EA candidates do not enroll at the same rate as admitted Early-Decision candidates times up(presumably 100%), they are still likely to enroll at a much higher rate than students who apply Regular Decision.

Colleges know this because they track their yields on EA offers from year to year. They tend not to bend their academic standards for EA candidates. Rather, they are banking on the opportunity to realize higher conversion rates among high profile admitted students by making strong, positive connections with them early in the process.

Possible EA Outcomes

Much like the case with ED, EA outcomes include acceptance, deferral and denial. The only difference is that acceptance does not involve a commitment to enroll.

Who Benefits?

Unlike ED, EA really doesn’t improve one’s chances of admission.

Why? Institutions are reluctant to commit places in the class to strong, but not superior students without first being able to compare them with the larger pool of candidates. EA does, however, provide peace of mind for those who use it early in the process.

Tips for Early Action or Early Decision

1. Read the fine print for each institutional offering and understand your commitments before initiating an early application of any sort.

2. Rather than looking for an “ED school,” focus on finding colleges that fit you well as you arrive at your short list of schools. If one of them becomes your absolute first choice, then ED should be a considered option.

3. Do not apply ED unless you are dead certain of your commitment to enroll if accepted.

4. Do not apply ED if you have not visited the campus first! Ideally, your visit will have included an overnight stay that enabled you to also attend classes and experience the admissions officecampus culture.

5. Resist the temptation to act on impulse. The feelings you have for a college now might change greatly over time leaving you committed to a place that is no longer where you want to be. Give yourself at least a month to reflect on your intended application before applying ED.

6. Remember the ED Round II option. Many schools will give you the opportunity to “convert” your Regular Decision application during a second round of ED in January. The conditions are the same as with ED Round I, but you might be better prepared to make a commitment later in the year.

7. Resolve all $$ questions and concerns before applying ED. Once you are admitted, there can be no contingencies. Ask the school’s financial aid office to provide an “early estimate” of your expected family contribution (EFC) before you submit your ED application. (Note from Lynn:  Also use a school’s net price calculator!)

Apply ED only if you are completely satisfied with the information you receive regarding your EFC. For more information about acquiring the early estimate, check my college blog post, Making College Affordable: Tips for Avoiding a Mountain of Debt.

8. Sprint to the finish! Even though you might hold an EA or ED acceptance letter, it is likely to be conditional on your completion of the senior at the same level of achievement that earned you the offer of admission. More than a few colleges are known to rescind offers of admission when final transcripts show performances that drop measurably after offers of admission are secured.



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