When to Apply to College, EA or ED?

When first starting the college application process, one of the most important things to establish is your application timeline. You’ll first want to assess any looming deadlines and then work backwards to determine how much time you’ll need to complete your application. Consider things like: Registering for tests, studying, gathering teacher recommendations, and of course, writing and perfecting your essays.

When you decide to submit your applications depends on whether or not you choose to apply using either Early Action, Early Decision, or Regular Decision. Many students wonder, which option is best?

What is Early Action? What is Early Decision?

Early Action (or “EA”) refers to the opportunity for students to submit applications early during the fall semester, usually anywhere from late October to early November. The application is over sooner, will be reviewed sooner, and students will receive an admissions decision sooner (usually in December).

Is Early Action the same as Rolling Admissions?

Not quite. Rolling Admissions refers to the process of accepting applications and offering admission slots on a rolling basis, meaning that students can submit materials within a window of time rather than on a hard deadline. Likewise, there is no established date by which schools will release acceptances or rejections. Applications will be reviewed in the order that they were received and decisions will be given in the same fashion. Some schools are straightforward about the benefits of applying during a rolling admissions window. For many schools that accept through rolling admissions, applying early is to your advantage. Typically, fewer slots have been allocated for admission and your odds of acceptance are greater. By the end of an admissions season, it may be tougher to gain admission to a school that accepts through rolling admissions.

However, Early Action is different in that there is a hard and fast deadline for submission as well as a hard and fast date for a decision on the part of the school. Early Action simply means that the typical college application process happens earlier in the season.

What is the difference between EA and ED?

EA is not the same as ED. Early decision means that a student is willing to forsake all other offers of admissions if granted placement to a top choice school. In other words, ED is binding whereas EA is not. ED applicants may follow the same timeline as EA applicants, but can only apply to one school for ED acceptance. Students will often use this option as a way to demonstrate their dedication to their top choice school.

What are the advantages of applying EA or ED?

Depending on your top school, statistically, it may be to your advantage to apply early. If your top choice offers rolling admissions, then applying early will usually ensure that your application is at the top of the stack and will be reviewed before most of the slots have been handed out.

However, even if a rolling admissions decision isn’t an option, many students still choose to apply early simply to get the process over with. Why risk missing a deadline when you can submit everything early? However, only apply ED if you’re 100% certain that you’ll attend the school if offered admission.

How binding is binding?

Binding means binding. Exceptions may be made for extenuating circumstances such as illness or inability to pay tuition, but if offered admission through early decision then the offer must be accepted.

To reject an offer presented through early admission puts your other applications at risk. Admissions officers communicate with each other across schools and will be informed if an applicant fails to honor his/her early decision commitments. Most likely, all other potential offers of admissions will be revoked and you’ll need to begin the application cycle anew the following year.

Can I apply ED to one school and EA to others?

This varies from school to school. Be sure to review the guidelines on early admissions policies. Some schools will allow you to apply ED to one school and then EA to others, but you must be certain before proceeding. It also happens that some schools will not allow you to apply early to any institutions other than theirs.

Another application option is called “single-choice EA” which mimics the selectivity of ED (ie, the student can only apply to that school and no others) without the binding aspect. It can all be very complicating, and is worth thorough research. As always, be sure to read the fine print.

If you have further questions, ask in the comments below, or get in touch to schedule a free consultation.

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