There is a widespread belief that early action and early decision applications are in the best interests of all students. Indeed, early action and early decision admissions policies have resulted in unprecedented numbers of students applying early to colleges. As a result, it is imperative that today’s high school seniors make educated decisions about these early admissions options.
Early Action Admissions
A number of colleges, and probably most notably Harvard, offer the early action option which is on the same November 1 application deadline and a mid-December decision timetable as the early decision option. Unlike early decision, early action is non-binding; admitted students are not obligated to enroll in the college if accepted.
Early action allows students more flexibility in selecting their future schools. It also allows the students to compare financial aid offers from other colleges and universities.
Early Decision Admissions
Early decision is the early admission program offered by most colleges and universities. Applicants must commit in advance to attend the early decision college if admitted. Applicants caught applying to other schools in the early admissions period are automatically rejected by the admissions committee.
Early decision colleges generally offer students a better chance for admission than early action schools if they apply early. Students should be aware though that they will shoulder the burden of proof if they seek a release from their commitment to attend if their financial aid awards vary significantly from their ability to pay. Fortunately, very few students seek this release.
Early admission programs can be very advantageous if the applicants’ profile does not need to benefit from the senior year. Even if you or your child fits this profile, you should still not seek an early decision if there is any uncertainty about the applicant’s top-choice college or university. Conversely, many more applicants will find it advantageous to apply to an early action college.