Defining Early Action and Early Decision

  • Early Action (EA) is a "non-binding" admissions process, which means that a student who is accepted still has a choice about whether to attend the school. It is designed for students who want the peace of mind of early acceptance without having to commit to one school right away.
  • Early Decision (ED) is a "binding" admissions process, which requires the student to attend the school if accepted. This option is designed for students who are certain about which college they want to attend.
  • For both EA and ED, the application deadline is earlier than a typical Regular Decision deadline, and can be as early as mid-October. Notifications are generally sent within eight weeks.
  • Early admission applicants may be accepted, denied, or deferred to the college's Regular Decision pool (and then notified in the spring). An applicant who has been denied through the EA or ED process will no longer be considered for acceptance.

Things to Consider

When applying to college early through either EA or ED, you will have less time to boost your GPA, improve your standardized test scores, and fine-tune your college applications and essays. Also, because the ED process is binding, it's important to keep in mind that applying ED to a school:

  • Prohibits you from applying ED to any other school
  • Requires you to immediately withdraw all of your other college applications if you are accepted, no matter the financial aid you received
  • Prevents you from comparing financial aid offers from several colleges before choosing a school

Before Submitting an ED Application

Here are some things you should do before you decide to apply ED:

  • Learn about and visit several schools so that you have others to compare to your ED school.
  • Make sure that the ED school is your first choice.
  • Give yourself enough time to complete your application carefully and thoughtfully.
  • Confirm that your GPA, test scores, and other credentials are comparable to those of most students who are typically accepted by your ED school.
  • Use the Net Price Calculators for each college on your list to compare your potential financial aid eligibility.
  • Determine how you would pay the tuition at your ED school if the financial aid offer turns out to be less than you expect.
  • Find out if your ED school offers an "out" from your commitment if the financial aid offer is insufficient.
  • Understand your ED school's application process and deadlines, and create a plan to submit everything on time.
  • Consult your school counselor for guidance about whether an ED application is right for you.

Financial Aid

If you apply to college through EA or ED, you may have earlier financial aid deadlines. Check with each college to find out the required applications and the deadlines, and be sure to submit everything on time.

If You Apply for Early College Admission

Whether you choose to apply EA or ED, it's important to have a back-up plan. As soon as you submit your early college admission application, start working on your Regular Decision applications so that you are ready to submit them if you are denied early college admission. MEFA's Application Deadline Tracker can help you stay organized.

And, of course, stay focused on your schoolwork after you are accepted. Colleges require a final grade report at the end of your senior year, and they will want to see that you maintained solid academic performance right up to your graduation.