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.