Deciding about Early Decision

Early Decision and Early Action

While Early Decision and Early Action admissions used to only be associated with competitive colleges, of high school seniors who filled out the Common Application last year, nearly 49% applied to some form of an early program. Students apply early to a college they are very interested in attending. Most colleges either offer Early Decision or Early Action admission, but typically you will not see both offered at the same school. For both Early Decision and Early Action, the deadline for admission is usually in the fall of a student's senior year, typically November 1. This means that students must complete their applications by this date. If students apply early admission, they usually receive an answer by January 1, which is often before other students even apply to college through the regular process.

Early Decision (ED) is a binding commitment by the student to attend the college if you are admitted. For this reason, students may only apply to one school ED. Students and counselors usually have to sign a contract if the student applies ED stating that if admitted, the student will attend the college. Often times, ED acceptances are made before students know what their full financial aid package will be. So if you want to compare different financial aid packages or if you are not sure you want to attend the college, ED may not be the right fit.

For Early Action (EA) admission, students again apply early, generally by the November 1 deadline. The difference here is that applying EA does not require a commitment. So students apply early and are notified by December or January of their admission status, but they do not have to make a decision about the college until Spring. Some students elect to immediately accept their admission, while others may want to wait and see which other colleges choose to admit them. If a college offers EA admission, students typically can apply to more than one college EA.

Some of the most selective colleges offer something called Single Choice Early Action (SCEA). Although students still do not have to commit to attending their college if admitted, students are allowed to only apply to one college SCEA. To make sure you are aware of the admissions' policies for the college on your list, contact their admissions office (or visit the admissions section of their website) so you are aware of the specific rules and processes. 

The College Board offers a worksheet that helps students decide whether applying early is right for them. You can download the worksheet here.


Regular Admission

Regular Admission is the standard college admission deadline, which is between January 1 and April 1 of the student's senior year. Students must have all of their materials in by this deadline, and then colleges will admit, wait list, or deny students admission based on their qualifications. If a student is not accepted for Early Action or Early Decision but is not denied admission, they are usually placed in the Regular Admission pool and the college will look at the student's application in comparison to the other students applying Regular Admission


Rolling Admission

Some colleges offer Rolling Admission. This means there is no exact deadline for admission. Students apply and are admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. The key here is that the campus will only admit students until they have met their enrollment goals. Sometimes, the college might fill their class in January, while other years, the college fills their class in June. So don't put off Rolling Admission deadlines or you may miss your chance especially if a student is applying to a college with a competitive program like nursing, physical therapy, or engineering. Spots in these programs go quickly. 


Quick Tip:

Seniors should apply to 6-8 colleges. Be sure to select colleges that range in competitiveness so that you have about two reach schools, two target schools, and two probable schools. Confused on how to make your list? Talk with your school counselor or call NCFS Solutions for a College Preparation appointment today!