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Wondering about the difference between applying to college early decision (ED) or early action (EA)? Let’s break it down so you can decide which one could be right for you.

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 colleges 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 till spring to make your decision, giving you more time to go over other applications and financial aid packages. 

Some schools have an option called single-choice early action, which means you can’t apply early decision or early action to any other school.

Should I Apply Early?

You should only apply early 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, socially, and geographically. They also need to consider if the school accepts students who are 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—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.