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    Early Action vs Early Decision

    February 16, 2021 | Staff Writers

    Early Action vs Early Decision
    Degree Finder
    BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

    When the school year starts to wind down, high school seniors are certainly excited to be in the last of their years in high school, but mostly they are excited about the next step in life: college. 

    When it comes time to choose a college, there are a lot of factors at play, including what a student may want to take as a major or minor, where a student may want to go to college (i.e. in-state or out of state), whether the student wants to live on campus or commute. But one of the first decisions that come with choosing a college is, and this may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning, choosing a college itself. That’s where early action and early decision come in. 

    Today, we’re going to discuss the differences between early action and early decision program, the pros and cons of each, and finally, how to choose between the two of them. Hopefully, this information will help you make up your mind about whether applying early is the right decision and which is the best option for you moving forward. 

    Differences Between Early Action and Early Decision

    There is one key similarity between early action and early decision– they are both ways of knowing whether a student will get into their early-decision school. Often, using one of these early admission methods means that students will get responses from schools sooner than regular applicants. Also, both will tell the schools that students are applying to that students are serious about attending. 

    Many times, students who use early decision appear more impressive than those who don’t. Choosing an early decision makes a student look more prepared than those who apply during the regular application period. These students may appear more eager, and the application board will consider this when making their decision.

    To begin, let’s discuss the fundamental differences between early action and early decision. While both have something to do with the end of a college application process and acceptance to the school the student wishes to attend, they differ in one key factor. That factor is whether you are committed to attending the college you have made an early action/early decision upon. 

    To put it simply, early action is non-binding. When a student applies to a college, should they be accepted, they can choose to do early action. If a student chooses to accept an invitation with early action, they don’t have to fully commit to the college. It’s not legally binding. With early action, a student is essentially saying that they’re interested in the college, but they have yet to make a decision. As per usual, the student will have until May 1st to accept an offer for admission. This period gives the student time to think about what they want, even if that means waiting to see what happens with multiple schools that the student may have applied to early.

    It’s also prudent to use early action if a student is looking to gauge how some of their favorite schools may feel about them. Using an early action lets the student know whether they get accepted to the schools they wish to attend. They can get a yes or no with this early action, and if they get a yes, then they’ll still have some time to decide whether or not they wish to attend that college. 

    Early decision, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is binding. So, if a student makes an early decision on a college application, then the student in question has to attend the college. Should a student be accepted to an institution that they have used an early decision on, they immediately have to withdraw all other applications and commit to that school. Often, students use an early decision for a first-choice school, one they have been dreaming about attending their whole lives. Keep in mind that while the promise to go to that school is a big one, it’s not exactly legally binding. Most will be hard-pressed to find a school that will pursue a student legally for going back on an early decision. So, the question remains– why even choose early decision if it means the student is going to be locked into one school? Why not go with early action and let the student test the proverbial waters? Well, more often than not, an early decision sends a message to the school the student wishes to apply to. That they are the student’s first choice and that they will attend their school no matter what. 

    Ultimately, a lot of universities, colleges, and schools in general offer both as well as options for a regular decision applicant. So, it’s really up to the student to decide which one of the two they prefer. However, students should note that colleges will often only take competitive applicants during the early decision/early action process. How does one know whether or not they are a competitive applicant? A quick look at the school’s website will tell students whether or not they can compete with the other students around the nation. In general, students with high GPAs, high test scores, and plenty of extracurricular activities are prime candidates for being considered a competitive applicant. Students should also take their SAT scores into account (higher means that they have a better chance of being accepted early).

    That covers the differences between early action and early decision. There were even some similarities in there as well. Now, let’s discuss the pros and cons of each so that any student in the United States of America can make their decision about an early application. 

    Pros and Cons of Early Action

    This section is going to cover the pros and cons of choosing an early action. Early action is a great option for those who wish to apply early, but the early action does have its setbacks as well. 

    PRO: There is less of a commitment with early action

    Early action is great if a student wants to go to a particular school but wants to keep their options open. If a student knows which schools they are going to apply to, they can choose to do an early action to find out if they even have a chance of making it into those schools. Unlike early decision, when you have to commit to a school that you are accepted into, early action gives you a little more leeway. Your decision with early action is not as set in stone as it is with early decision.

    CON: The early action looks more floundery than the early decision. 

    Here’s the thing about early action. While it is a way for students who aren’t sure about which school they want to attend to gauge whether or not they’d be accepted, it doesn’t hold the same weight as an early decision. Early decisions let the school that a student applies know they have their heart set on attending that school, and that drive could help with the application. Early actions, however, do not carry that same weight, as they don’t require as much commitment. 

    PRO: Students who choose early action can wait until May to make their decision

    More to the point, students who choose early action will get until May (like most other students) to make their final decision about which college to apply to. Students who decide to use an early action get to mull over their options for a bit longer, giving them some more time to think about which school they want to go to. There isn’t any pressure with early action to make a quick and decisive decision. 

    CON: Students will need to get their college applications ready sooner.

    Why might this be a big deal for students? Surely their whole high school life has been preparing them to go to higher education (or into the job market), so why would putting materials together sooner be a problem? Well, for many students, their last year in high school is going to be very busy, and they might not even have the time to put together all the things needed for a college application. Tests, assignments, extracurriculars– all these factors may have a part to play in the fact that certain students can’t put together an application, especially an early application. For the students with great time management skills, this may not be as much of a problem; however, it is something to keep in mind when trying to choose between early action and early decision and whether or not a student should choose to do an early application at all.

    PRO: When a student applies early, they are going to be dealing with a smaller applicant pool.

    Not a lot of students apply early for a lot of the reasons listed above. Perhaps they don’t have the time management skills, perhaps they don’t want to look like a flounder or don’t have a top school they wish to attend. When a student chooses early action, they’re a stand out amongst applicants because there aren’t as many. There is no issue with looking like a keener when it comes to college applications. Some may argue that looking keen is the whole point of applying to colleges. Nevertheless, when you apply with early action, the pool of applicants is smaller, which means students will most likely have a better chance of getting in. 

    CON: Students are going to lose a whole semester’s worth of grades to apply with.

    Early action may not be the best choice for a student whose GPA is likely to go up after their first semester. Because you have to apply in November with the early action, they lose a whole semester’s worth of grades going into the college application. All the potential A’s that can appear on a student’s application are lost, which could spell certain doom for those who don’t have GPAs that could affect the admission decision. If a student is not confident in their current GPA and a semester’s worth of grades could pull it up, it’s often better to wait. If the time spent bringing up a student’s GPA can increase their odds of acceptance late, then early action may not be the right decision for them. 

    Now you have learned all the pros and cons of an early action plan so can decide to pursue an early action school or opt for a regular decision deadline. Hopefully, this gives students a better handle on how schools, themselves, and their lives will react when they choose to go with early action and the benefits of meeting this early deadline. Next, this article is going to discuss the pros and cons of an early decision. 

    Pros and Cons of Early Decision

    This section will teach students the various pros and cons behind choosing an early decision. While there are a lot of pros, there are some cons as well. Keep in mind there may be some overlap of pros and cons, as early decision and early action are both steps to take in the world of early application. And there are pros and cons to early applications in general. 

    PRO: The early decision usually is impressive to a college application committee– it shows their commitment. 

    The early decision, in its nature, is binding. Sure, that can be scary (and a pretty big decision), which means it holds a lot of weight for the student. But, keep this in mind. As much weight as it holds for the student is how much weight it holds in the eyes of an application board. When application boards see that a student is so committed to going to their school that they would not only forgo offers from other schools but also apply early, they tend to be impressed. It could help push a student who, in their eyes, is leaning towards a no into a yes. Think of it this way. If someone was so committed to getting a job at a certain company, they would forgo any other offer competing companies would put on the table, then they would most likely get hired, wouldn’t they?

    CON: The early decision is binding. 

    This decision is not legally binding, but it is a commitment that you make to the school. A commitment that if the student flounders upon, it could look bad on them. This means that once a student is accepted to the school they’ve used early decision on, they must attend that school. Not only does that limit a student’s options, but the concept itself could also be scary to some. Entering the world of college is a huge decision, and unless the student is certain they wish to attend a specific school, then an early decision may not be the right choice for them. 

    PRO: An early decision makes a student look keen.

    Not just because the early decision it’s a binding decision, but because when a student applies early, they look like they’re ready to enter the next step of their lives. They have the time management skills to put in an application before most other students, and they are ready to commit to an institution that would take them through their next steps in life. It not only makes students look keen, but it also makes them look responsible. Keep in mind, while the word keen has gotten a bit of a bad stigma behind it in the 20th and 21st century, there are no qualms about keeners in the eyes of a college application board. 

    CON: Losing the semester of work

    Just as with early action, students who decide to go with early decision also lose a semester of work to spruce up their GPAs. And this could especially be disastrous for people trying to get into their dream school (as most people who choose to make an early decision are). Deciding to make an early application, especially an early decision, takes a lot of thought from anybody, especially a high school student. 

    PRO: The smaller application pool.

    As with early action, a smaller application pool for early decision means that every application stands out. Mostly because fewer people are applying, but also because a student who can manage an early application is going to look great in the eyes of a college application board. And with fewer people in the application pool, looking great is something that any student would want. Students who take on early applications are going to have a smaller application pool in general. And with an early decision, students in that small application pool are going to stand out even more because of the commitment they are willing to make. 

    CON: The competition in the smaller application pool.

    While there may be a smaller application pool, there are still some drawbacks. Students who make early application deadlines have greater time management skills, better GPAs, and are more confident in general. They are likely going to make it into the school that they have applied to, but, that’s the thing. Every student in that pool is also going to have those same qualities, possibly even more. Sure, college application boards are going to be impressed with a student’s ability to make an early decision, but they are also going to be competing with all the other stellar students who have decided to make an early decision as well. When a student applies to colleges at the regular time, they have more of a chance (and more time for that matter) to build their application, make their grades better, and best of all– they aren’t going to be in a pool of people who are the best of the best.

    PRO: With early decision, students will only have to worry about one application.

    College applications can be difficult. With things like early action or applying regularly, students have to take the time to gear their applications to each specific school they wish to apply to. This process can take an immense amount of not just time but brainpower as well, and not just because college applications are hard in general. Students have to gear each application to the specific school to which they are applying. With early decisions, students need not worry about such things. They only have one application they have to worry about, and often it’s the school they were dreaming about– the school where they’re been wanting to go for the last four years of high school. Most likely, their entire high school career has just been prep to get into that specific school anyway, so they shouldn’t have a problem with creating an application for that school. They just need to keep on doing what they’ve been doing for the last couple of years of their life, then put all that down on paper. 

    CON: The issues with financial aid.

    The problem with early applications and especially early decision is that students don’t have as many financial aid options as the students who apply during the regular application period. With early decision, once a student is accepted to a school, then that’s the school they are going to attend, whether they have good financial aid options or not. This fact could leave a student in a lot more debt than they’re already going to be in, and they also could miss out on some better financial aid that other schools could have offered. Here is a tip for all the students out there: research. If students know they are looking for financial aid, make sure that the school they are applying to either A) has the financial aid options that will put the school into a student’s budget or B) they look into scholarships that could help them along the way. The good thing about scholarships is that students can still receive them even if they’ve already been accepted to a college, so even if students are having money problems then they can explore other options.

    PRO: The early answer.

    The early answer is a pro for both the early decision and the early action. Students know that waiting is never fun, and it’s especially not fun when they have to wait to know whether or not they have a future in higher education. All that waiting and nervousness about getting into the next step of their lives would drive anyone insane and could lead to a pretty miserable last year of high school. An early decision acceptance can help alleviate some of this pressure, making like a little easier than for classmates who are meeting a standard application deadline. That’s why waiting until later in the year to apply can be a pain, and why the early application is great. Not only do students get to put all that waiting behind them, but they also get to have a good idea of where they stand. If they get accepted, that’s great. They don’t need to worry about college applications in general, but if they don’t get accepted, then they also have a general idea of the kind of school that would reject them. They have an idea of where they can get into the next year, which, no doubt, takes some of the pressure off. 

    Now that the scope of an early decision has been laid out, it is conceivable that students will now have the tools to make a better decision when it comes to… well, an early decision. We’ve shown the pros and cons for both early action and early decision, so hopefully, students will be able to choose either or. However, if they still have yet to decide between the two, the next section should help solidify a student’s selection.

    How to Choose Between Early Action and Early Decision

    When choosing a school, it can be hard to decide between early action and early decision. They both have their pros and cons, and even the whole process of applying early can be risky for some. One of the first things you should do is decide if applying early is the right choice. Remember, sometimes an extra semester to bring up a low GPA might be worth it in the end.

    But it boils down to this. If you are certain about the school you want to attend, do an early decision. It makes any student look great, and they’ll stand out above the rest. If you want to keep your options open – do an early action. Don’t worry, you’ll still look great. If you’re not confident about yourself yet– avoid the early application altogether. It might be worth taking the time to improve your GPA and increase your chances of getting accepted into the school of your dreams.

    Now that we covered the differences between early action and early decision, we hope you find the process a little easier if you decided that applying early is the right option for you. Look at the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is the best approach. Ultimately, remember which route you choose isn’t the most important thing, even if you opt for regular decision. What matters is that you have decided to pursue higher education. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you get there, just you make it happen.

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