What does it mean to apply early to college? When do you need to submit your application and when will you receive a decision? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Hundreds of colleges offer students a choice of applying to their schools either at the regular deadline or early. Such programs have non-intutitive names, and since it's easy to get lost in a sea of abbreviations, let's define terms:
Early Action (EA I, EA II)
This is non-binding, meaning that you are not bound to attend if accepted. You may apply Early Action to any number of schools. An Early Action application is usually due November 1 and students often receive a decision in December. EA II is often due in December or January, but before the Regular Decision deadline.
Early Decision (ED I, ED II)
A binding program, meaning that if you are accepted, you are bound to attend. For this reason, you may only apply ED to one school. Application is usually due November 1 and students often receive a decision in December. Some schools may offer an ED II deadline, usually in January.
Restrictive Early Action (REA)
Non-binding but there are restrictions on applying early to other schools. Some universities stipulate that REA students may not apply Early Action or Early Decision to any other U.S. private schools; some restrict Early Decision applications only.
A program where applications are evaluated upon submission and decided upon as they are received.
Regular Decision (RD)
This is the final deadline for applications, often in January or February. Students may wait until April to receive a decision and need to commit by May 1.
With so many options, how should you make a decision?
Consider the advantages to applying early:
1. It may relieve stress to get through the process earlier and not have to spend months stressing about what the colleges will decide.
2. If you're accepted to your first choice school early, you don't have to bother with applying elsewhere.
3. Applying early will give you an edge in applying to some schools. If you're a good candidate, applying early gives schools an indication that you are serious about attending; schools are more likely to accept you if they believe you are more likely to attend.
But applying early is not for everyone. You should only apply EA, ED, or REA if you've had time to create the strongest application possible and all the elements are in order. If there is still room to create a better application, polish your essays, take additional tests to improve your scores, get recommendations, and so on, it's better to do those things and apply later.
Regarding Early Decision specifically, the biggest deterrent is that you will be contractually obligated to attend the school if accepted with no ability to compare financial award packages. You should only apply Early Decision if you have identified your best-fit school, are certain that you want to attend, know that you are a competitive candidate, and can afford to attend regardless of the financial package offered.
As most of our students will include University of California and California State University campuses among their applications, it is worth noting that neither of these university systems offers options. Applications are due by November 30.
Since every college is different, make a point of consulting the admissions section of each school's website for its specific application options and deadlines.