Applying Early? Is That The Right Move?

You may be tempted to apply to college early to get ahead of the process.  You might have even heard that applying early will increase your chances at admission.   It would be great to save yourself some time and money by not submitting multiple applications.  And if you are accepted, you are done! No more stress waiting to hear and not knowing where you are going next year.

There are a variety of “early” options out there – it is very important to know the differences.  Which, if any, is right for you? 

Let’s start with Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and Restrictive Early Action.  All programs consider a student’s application in advance of the regular application deadlines.  The programs may vary by school, however the one thing all schools have in common is this: Early Decision programs are binding; Early Action plans are not.

Early Decision (Binding)

  • If you get in, you have to go.  
  • You may only apply ED to one school – it better be your first choice! 
  • Decisions generally come in mid-December.
  • You may apply regular decision to other schools, but if accepted ED, you must withdraw. 
  • You will not be able to compare financial aid packages from multiple schools.
  • If rejected, you only have a few weeks to get those regular decision applications submitted.  
  • Students should work on regular applications while waiting to hear on the early decision.  

Early Action (Non-binding)

  • If you get in, you do NOT have to go.  You don’t even need to decide until May 1.
  • Decisions generally come in January/February.
  • You may apply to multiple schools EA and/or regular admission.  

Restrictive (or Selective) Early Action (Non-binding)

  • If you get in, you do not have to go.   Like Early Action, you don’t need to decide until May 1.
  • Decisions generally come in January/February.
  • You may not apply other colleges’ ED or EA programs.
  • You may and should apply to other colleges’ regular admission.
  • Harvard, Stanford, and Notre Dame are examples of colleges that offer this program.
  • Each school may have various exceptions and restrictions, be sure to understand.

Will applying early increase my chances to be admitted?

Maybe! This is true for some colleges, and false for others.  

Many selective colleges have early decision acceptance rates that can be up to triple their regular decision acceptance rates.  For example, Claremont McKenna College filled more than half - 68% - of their 2021 class from early decision applications.  The ED acceptance rate was 32% vs. 7% for regular decision.  

On the other hand, the University of Denver only filled 11% of the 2021 class from early decision applications.  The ED acceptance rate was 31% vs.54% for regular decision.

What about the U?  The University of Utah has a non-binding early action program.  They accept applications from August through April 1st; however, applying early and by the priority deadline of December 1st is strongly advised according to their website.  Meeting the Dec 1st deadline will mean that students will be notified by Jan 15th and you will have until the national enrollment deposit deadline of May 1 to accept your offer.

For each school on your college list, you should determine what early programs they offer, if any.  And to determine if there is an advantage to applying early, check this spreadsheet that was compiled by independent educational consultants Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy.  The list has data for over 200 colleges.   

Key Considerations for your Application Strategy

  • Early Decision is binding; Early Action is not.
  • If accepted Early Decision, you will not be able to compare financial aid packages across schools.  If financial aid is going to be an important part of your decision, then ED is likely not a good fit for you.
  • Applying early *may* improve your chances of admission – it varies by school.
  • Your grades and ACT or SAT scores should be at their best when you apply. If your grades dipped junior year but you expect to be able to show improvement first semester senior year, then regular admission is a better fit.  Same with test scores - if you plan to re-take the ACT in December to improve your score, then regular admission is a better fit.
  • Selecting a college a big decision, make sure you take the time to research and evaluate all your options.

Still have questions?  Give Kelly a call at 435-487-9651 or email to set up a free initial consultion.