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What’s The Difference Between Early Decision & Early Action?

college consultant Southington CT

As I work with students and their families on college lists, one question that always comes up is, “what’s the difference between Early Decision and Early Action?”

Typically it’s followed by some sort of statement that sounds like, “I hate to ask a dumb question like this but I really don’t know.”

It’s not a dumb question at all.

In fact, like many other questions that come up during the college search and application process, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.

So, let’s talk about the difference.

Early Decision, also known as ED, is binding while Early Action is not. This means that if you apply ED to a college and are admitted, you are now going to be enrolling at that college. You’ve just gotten married, in a sense.
In fact, when you apply ED to a college, and you can only apply to one school as an ED applicant, the student, parents and school counselor all sign an electronic agreement on the application stating that, if admitted, the student agrees to immediately withdraw all other pending applications. You don’t get to see who else wants to admit you and you definitely don’t get to wait around for financial aid awards so that you can compare offers.

So, the ED school says, “yes”, and the student is locked in. Their college application process is over. And, most likely, this is all happening in November or December of their senior year.

Early Action, on the other hand, is non-binding. Students can apply to as many Early Action schools as they like and, if admitted, are under no pressure to commit early. They can wait on their remaining decisions and review their financial aid awards before committing by May 1st. Like ED, students admitted through Early Action are still hearing back earlier in the process than students who apply through Regular Decision (typically January or early February) but the key difference is that their options have not been taken away.

Which brings me to the most important factor in deciding to apply ED or EA.

If a student knows, without a doubt, that the college fits them in every possible way, that it’s THE place they want to attend and that the cost is something the family can afford without regard to financial assistance, then applying ED can work out great. Some of the most selective colleges in the country are more generous with their decisions during the ED round of applications and, therefore, a student’s chances may improve. Note that I did not say, “will” improve. Students who are not strong applicants to begin with will not improve their chances just by applying ED.

But, if you are worried about cost, and you do want to have options, Early Action is very clearly the better way to go.

If you want some help and guidance on your college search and application process, contact me today to set up an appointment for a free 60-minute consultation. Not sure if a college consultant is for you? Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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Understanding Single Choice Early Action

college admissions consultant cheshireBack in June I wrote a post about the difference between Early Decision and Early Action to help families and students better understand their options in the early admission game. Recently, Michael Nardi, a government relations, economic development & public policy consultant, commented that Early Action comes in a few forms which have ramifications for students considering early applications to other schools.

And he’s absolutely right.

Some schools practice what is called Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) otherwise known as Restrictive Early Action (REA).

Let’s take a look at two of the more popular schools in the Boston area, Harvard and Boston College, to understand what all of this means.

1. If a school offers SCEA or REA, neither is a binding decision meaning that if a student is admitted, he or she can still wait to hear on their other applications before making a decision prior to May 1st.

2. Students need to pay close attention to the fine print in regards to Early Decision (ED) applications. Harvard’s SCEA policy says that while students cannot apply anywhere ED, they can apply in the second round of ED applications known as ED II if, and only if, the application due date is January 1st or later. Boston College, on the other hand will not allow a student to apply ED or ED II period.

3. Early Action applications to other schools are also affected. At Harvard, students cannot apply to any other private colleges EA but may apply to public colleges while Boston College applicants can still apply EA to both.

4. Students cannot apply using SCEA at more than one school. Both Harvard and Boston College adhere to this rule.

5. Students are allowed to apply to any other college, private or public, through Rolling Admission or Regular Decision at both Harvard and Boston College.

So why do these colleges use these restrictive policies?

Colleges admit students with the hope that the student will ultimately accept the offer and enroll there. Of all the ways to demonstrate interest, applying SCEA is one the most definitive ways to show a school they are your top choice. If you are admitted through SCEA you can still consider other offers, but you’ve given up a lot of other early admission opportunities to do so and you have sent a pretty clear message that you are likely to enroll if admitted. And students who are likely to enroll at a college are extremely valuable to admission counselors.

At the end of the day, if you have your heart set on attending Harvard, Boston College, or one of the other schools who offer a form of SCEA like Princeton, Georgetown, Yale, Notre Dame or Stanford, then applying early is most likely a good choice. Of course, you need to make sure that you are a strong candidate to begin with and that your application is flawless and ready to go by November 1st.

If you want some help and guidance on your college search and application process, contact me today to set up an appointment for a free 60-minute consultation. Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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College Planning Timeline

College Planning Timeline

There’s a lot to do along the way from the time when you go online to research that first college of interest to May 1st of your senior year in high school when you commit to the college where you will enroll. And, like any journey, it’s always helpful to have a plan. The following master plan is intended to be a general map of what to do throughout your four years in high school to ensure that things go as smoothly for you as they can.


*Develop your time management and study skills.

*Explore and engage with extracurricular activities (e.g., clubs, sports, community service, fine and performing arts, work, and other in-or out-of-school activities) that align with your interests, values, and strengths.

*Create an honors and activity list to track all your honors, awards, accolades, extracurricular activities, summer experiences, and other achievements.

*Start building a relationship with your school counselor by talking to them about classes, your goals, clubs, activities, etc. 

*Parents: Start exploring how to pay for college.

*Athletes: Familiarize yourself with the NCAA athletic recruiting requirements.

*Plan a summer experience that helps you explore a passion or interest.


*Complete a personality and interests assessment to learn more about your values, interests, strengths, and learning style. Use the results to explore possible majors and career paths.

*Continue participating in extracurricular activities. See if you can deepen your involvement or take on a leadership role in the activities you’ve already been doing. Alternatively, step outside your comfort zone and try something new.

*Update your honors and activity list.

*Stay focused on keeping your grades up. 

*Take the October PSAT. 

*Attend a local college fair in the second half of sophomore year to start gathering information on colleges. 

*Meet with your school counselor at least once a year to discuss course selection. Continue building this relationship by asking questions about new courses and suggestions for ways to develop your interests.

*Explore possible college majors and careers further by arranging for a job shadow or informational interview.

*Visit a local college or two to begin identifying what characteristics stand out to you.

*Athletes: Let your high school counselor know you’re considering college athletics and register for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Clearinghouse. Then double-check that all of your courses are NCAA-approved. Not all high school courses count towards their requirements.

*Athletes: Complete online athletic recruitment forms for each college you're considering. You'll find these on the college's website under "athletics." Once you’ve completed the online recruitment forms, make your sports resume and recruitment videos. Spread out your correspondence with coaches by sending the resumes and video a few weeks after you complete the online forms.



*Start a preliminary list of colleges to visit. 

*Schedule a meeting with your school counselor to discuss the colleges you are interested in. Tell them about your college preferences and ask for their suggestions of colleges that might be a good fit for you. Doing so helps you continue to develop your relationship with your counselor.

*Take the October PSAT. This test qualifies students for the National Merit Scholarship. While you wait for results to be released in December, take a practice ACT and to determine which test may be better for you; then set up a testing timeline.

*Research and visit colleges on your college list. 

*Stay consistent with your non-academic extracurricular activities if your values and priorities haven’t changed. If they have, try something new. Continue to look for ways to explore and deepen your interests in these activities. Try a leadership role if you haven’t already.

*Continue to update your honors and activity list.

*Athletes: Continue completing online athletic recruitment forms for each college you're considering and sending correspondence to coaches a few weeks after you complete the online forms.


*Research and submit applications for any relevant summer programs.

*Prepare for SAT and/or ACT tests in March, April, May, and June. Register for senior year classes. Remember colleges will want to see a strong senior year course load including five academic core classes.

*Continue visiting colleges and refine your college list based on your values and your research.


*Attend local college fairs to meet college reps and ask questions that will help you (A) demonstrate interest and (B) start to narrow down your college list.

*Prepare for SAT and/or ACT tests in May, and June.

*Brainstorm ideas for your college essay and then work on subsequent drafts so that you have an essay in progress before the summer hits.

*Prepare for May AP tests.

*Request at least two teacher recommendations, preferably from current 11th grade teachers. 


*Start working on your Common App by filling out the six main pages of information.

*Participate in summer experiences (research, reading, internships, fun stuff).

*Continue narrowing down your college list so that you have a final list in place before the end of July. Be sure it reflects a balance of admission probabilities (likely, possible, and reach schools).

*Research your colleges’ requirements to see if an interview is offered or required. Interviews will typically be offered over the summer and into the fall.

*Make decisions about any Early Action and, where appropriate, Early Decision, applications. Set up a timeline for yourself based on all of your colleges’ application deadlines. 

*Prepare for SAT and/or ACT tests in August, September, and October.

*Complete the Common Application after it opens for the new academic year in early August.

*Visit any colleges on your list that you have yet to see, especially if it will help you decide if you really want to apply or not.

*Start working on applications and supplements due in October. 



*Complete and submit applications and supplements due in October.

*Start working on applications and supplements due in November. 

*Prepare for SAT and/or ACT tests in October. 

*Complete any additional visits or attend open houses to ask any last minute questions of college reps.

*Schedule interviews with college reps who will be in your area.

*Parents: Start preparing financial aid paperwork and develop a deadlines list.


*Complete and submit applications and supplements due in November.

*Start working on applications and supplements due in December.

*Complete any additional visits or attend open houses to ask any last minute questions of college reps.

*Schedule interviews with college reps who will be in your area.

*Send SAT or ACT results to your colleges after checking whether they allow self-reported scores.

*Parents: Where applicable, complete the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE financial aid applications.

November, December, and January:

*Complete and submit applications and supplements due in December and January.

*Start working on applications and supplements due in February. 

*Search and apply for private scholarships.

*If deferred, respond accordingly based on the college’s directions to reaffirm your interest and offer any updates (activities, achievements, awards, etc).

February, March and April:

*Search and apply for private scholarships.

*Plan visits to accepted colleges, especially admitted student events, when possible to make your final college choice.

*Evaluate financial aid packages and scholarship offerings to figure out how to pay for college.

*Make final decision on which college you will attend ahead of May 1st and then withdraw applications from all other colleges.



The college admissions journey is an important milestone in a student’s life, and one that is highly personalized.  We hope that you will choose to partner with a DCC College Advisor during this journey. We can provide expert guidance in each of the steps presented in this timeline, customizing the tasks to the individual needs and strengths of the student.  

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College Applications – So Many Ways To Apply

With application season upon us, high college seniors everywhere are working on the Common Application, the Coalition Application and, in some cases like with the College of Charleston or Endicott College, individual college applications. And while there are multiple platforms to choose from as students complete applications, there are also multiple ways to apply. Let’s talk about the differences and how they affect you.

Early decision, also known as ED, is where you apply to a college through a binding agreement – if you are admitted, you must confirm your enrollment with that college. There’s no backing out of an early decision acceptance. You’re allowed to apply ED to ONE college only. That’s it. This is why your love for the college must be true – you will have to contact your other colleges at which you submitted applications and notify them that you are withdrawing those applications immediately.

Early decision can be a great idea if you know, without a doubt, that you are in love with everything that college has to offer, you know you can afford to attend and you are ready, willing and able to commit to that college. You’re all in with early decision and the risk level is significant if you haven’t done your homework ahead of time.

Early action, or EA, is where applicants typically complete apply in November or December and expect to hear an answer before the start of the New Year. Early action applicants can be accepted, denied or deferred to the regular decision round of applications. Unlike early decision, early action applicants are not bound to their acceptance and have the choice to commit by the May 1st deadline or attend another college altogether. Early action is great because you have the benefit of applying early while also keeping your options open.

There are variations of early action policies. Some colleges are considered single choice early action which means they may not allow applicants to apply early decision and/or, in some cases, early action, to any other colleges. Therefore, it’s important to understand your colleges’ policies when it comes to these early application rounds.

Regular decision is the process by which you apply by each college’s published deadline which is typically around January 1st. Once the application and materials have been sent, applicants can expect to hear a decision by April 1st. Regular decision applicants can be admitted, denied or placed on a waiting list. Regular decision is the vanilla of the application world – it’s plain and simple but it also makes you wait quite a long time for a decision.

Rolling admission is where students are admitted on an ongoing, or rolling, basis. The colleges begin making decisions in early fall and continue to do so until they have met their enrollment requirements for the new freshman class. Colleges may accept or reject an applicant right away, or they may hold off for a period of time in order to gather more information on the applicant before rendering a decision. Depending on how strong or weak of an applicant they are, students may also find themselves on the waiting list. Because decisions are made on an ongoing basis, the earlier you apply, the earlier you can expect to hear a decision. It can feel great to get that first acceptance and it may just help you enjoy the holidays with your family and friends that much more.

On the other hand, rolling admission is great because you can apply when you’re ready. I’m not saying you should wait until the last minute but, let’s be honest – some of you will. Maybe you want to wait for first semester grades before you apply because you know you have some strong grades coming. Maybe your SAT scores were low and you wanted to take them again in November or December. Maybe you just happened to come upon a college mid-year that you hadn’t thought of before and now you want to apply – for any of these reasons and more, colleges with rolling admissions grant you the freedom to apply later in your senior year. 

Of course, for every pro of rolling admission there are also cons. colleges with rolling admission will start awarding aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Funds are limited so if you apply too late, your financial aid award may not be very helpful. Housing could also be an issue if you apply too late.

As with anything in the college application process, do your homework early on. Check out the admissions webpage for any colleges you are interested to find out which types of applications they offer.

If you have any questions or comments about the types of applications available to you and which one might be the best way for you to go, please shoot us a note – we would love to hear from you!

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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