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Early Decision - How to Decide

Early decision and early action admissions are changing the college admissions landscape as well-prepared students take advantage of the opportunities to apply and commit early.

No, life is not fair. Students who are well prepared in their studies and well advised in college admissions can take advantage of an early admissions process that, essentially, allows them to apply twice in the same year to their favorite colleges.

At every college, you may not be accepted or rejected in the early action / early decision round. A decision on your application can be deferred to the regular season admissions round. Most early applicants are deferred. Thus, the savvy and prepared student can have their application read twice by applying early.



If you have one or two clear top choice colleges, strong junior year grades and you're happy with your SAT I scores, then you're the kind of student who benefits most from making early applications. There are four kinds of early applications.  YES, you can participate in more than one.  They are:

  • Early Decision - The original.  You apply by November 1 or 15, you get a response by December 15. You have until January 1 to make your Early Decision.  Your early decision is binding.  That is, you have to withdraw any other applications you've made elsewhere if you accept an offer of admission.  These schools give financial aid applicants only a preliminary assessment of their financial aid package at that time.

  • Early Action - You apply by November 1 or 15, the admissions committee takes an Early Action and you get a response by December 15. Then you have until May 1, like everyone else, to make a college decision.

  • Single Action Early Action - You apply TO JUST ONE COLLEGE by November 1 or 15, the admissions committee takes an Early Action, you get a response by December 15. Then you have until May 1, like everyone else, to make a college decision.

  • Rolling Early Decision - You make your applications by one of a number of deadlines and you hear back six to eight weeks later.  Then you have until May 1, like everyone else, to make a college decision.

Which Colleges Use Which Programs?

  • Early Decision - The schools which will actually give you a closer look and a better chance at admission if you agree to accept a binding decision and give up your other options.  Schools like Amherst, BU, Brandeis, Brown, Claremont, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Duke, Harvey Mudd, Northwestern, Penn, Princeton, Smith, Rice, Tufts, Washington University in St. Louis, Wellesley and Williams.  Note that those schools whose reputations include a perception that, historically, they have been second-choice schools for very strong applicants dominate this list.

  • Early Action - Most of the colleges offering early responses to early applications, including Stanford, University of Chicago, CalTech, MIT, Boston College, Georgetown & Notre Dame, all of whom allow you to apply early to any of these other schools.

  • Single Action Early Action - Brown, Yale and Stanford, which permit their early applicants to apply only to rolling decision colleges also.

  • Rolling Admissions - Baylor, the Universities of Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and a number of other large public universities.


Should YOU apply Early Action or Early Decision?

See Why Apply Early?


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