College Planning

Early Decision, Early Action, and Other College Admission Options

Wondering about the difference between applying to college early decision (ED) or early action (EA)? Unsure if the school you’re applying to has an open or rolling admission policy? Let’s break it down so you can decide which one could be right for you.

What Is a Rolling Admission Policy?

A rolling admission policy means a school reviews an application when it receives all required information, including high school records and test scores. Schools that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants quicker than schools that set an application deadline and review applications in batches.

What Is an Open Admission Policy?

Schools with open admission policies accept all high school graduates, no matter what their GPA is, until the incoming class is filled. Open admission policies are used by almost all two-year community colleges. In some cases, colleges with an open admission policy have admission requirements for certain programs.

What Is Early Decision?

Early decision is for students who only want to apply to their first-choice college. If you apply ED you enter a legally binding plan that means you must attend the school if you’re accepted. You also have to withdraw any applications to other schools you applied to. You can only apply to one college early decision and must accept the financial aid package the college offers you.

And you need to complete your application early—sometimes as early as November. Colleges often respond quickly to early decision applications, usually in December.

What Is Early Action?

Early action is when a student applies to college early and gets an early admission decision. If you apply early action you enter a nonbinding plan that doesn’t require you to attend if you’re accepted. Often, you can apply early action to more than one school.

If you’re accepted early action, you can wait until spring to make your decision, which gives you more time to review other offers of admission and financial aid packages.

Some schools have an option called single-choice early action. With this plan you can’t apply early decision or early action to any other school, but it isn’t binding. If you get in, you don’t have to accept your offer of admission to that school. You’ll typically have until May 1 to make your decision. This gives you more time to compare admission offers and financial aid packages.

Should I Apply Early?

You should only apply early decision to a college if you’re sure it’s the one you want to go to.

Students who are confident in their early decision choice have done extensive research. They figure out if the college is a good match academically, financially, socially, and geographically. They also need to consider if the school accepts students in their academic range for SAT scores, GPA, and class rank.

What’s Good and Bad About Applying Early?

Applying early shows your strong interest in a college, reduces the stress of waiting for a decision, and saves you the time and money you’d spend submitting multiple applications. And if you don’t get accepted, you still have time to apply to other colleges.

There are some drawbacks to applying early decision—you need to make a very big decision in less time, and you can’t compare financial aid opportunities from different schools, limiting your financial aid opportunities.

To learn more about both application processes and keep your application on track, visit the Early Decision and Early Action Calendar.

And visit BigFuture™ for more free, comprehensive college planning resources.