Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Almost all colleges and universities will provide you with an option to apply regular decision to their school. You can apply regular decision to as many colleges as you desire, with application deadlines usually falling between January 1 and February 1 (the UC deadline is earlier—November 30th). However, some schools will offer additional application options: the most common include early action and early decision. You will need to put ample time into considering which schools, if any, to which you wish to apply early. Applying early action and/or early decision can be very helpful for you, but only after careful consideration and extensive research on your favorite universities.
What is Early Action?
Early action is a non-binding application option, meaning that if you are accepted to a university early action, you are not obligated to attend this university. If you apply early action to a university, you will receive your admissions decision before regular admission decisions come out, but you will not have to reply to the college until the regular deadline (usually May 1). While early action is not binding, many universities require that if you apply early action to their university, you do not apply to early programs at other universities.
What is Early Decision?
Typically, early decision plans are binding, meaning that if you are accepted to a university early decision, you must attend this university. This is the greatest distinction between early action programs and early decision programs. If you apply early decision to a university, your decision date will be far before the regular decision date (usually by December). You are only permitted to apply early decision to one university.
How to decide which option to go for:
If you are interested in applying to a school, early decision and early action do tend to yield a higher acceptance rate than normal admissions. For this reason, we highly recommend that you apply as Early Action or Early Decision. Remember that you can only apply to one school if you apply as Early Decision. Many would ask, "why should I apply as Early Decision if I have to commit to the school if I apply as Early Decision?" Main benefit of applying Early Decision is "Demonstrated Interest." Because you are committing to the school, the school knows that you will for sure choose that school when you are accepted. For this reason, Early Decision acceptance rate tend to be higher than Early Action acceptance rate.
There are few exceptions to this rule. Top four elite colleges in particular (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton) have something called, "Restrictive Early Action." This is when you have a choice to deny the school if admitted, but you can only early apply to one school. This means that if you early apply to Harvard, you can not early apply to Yale, Cornell, or Brown. However, you can still choose not to apply to the school once admitted. However, once they admit or deny you, you can still regular apply and get back to them once you receive your regular decision letters from other schools. For these reasons, restrictive Early Action has almost the same weight as Early Decision. You should only apply Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action to your NUMBER ONE school of your choice.
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