Early Decision and Early Action: Is It Worth Applying to College Earlier?
By Dr. Gina La Monica
Years ago, not many students applied to colleges before the designed deadline dates. They followed the standard timeline with most applications being submitted by December 1. Only a few students knew that you could submit your college applications before the masses to get an edge in the admissions process. Today, over half of the college acceptances are of students who were admitted before the regular admissions deadline. Over 450 colleges have early admissions, which is primarily used among the private colleges; fewer public institutions have this type of admissions process. These students attained the advantages of the two types of early submission: Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA)
Early decision is when a college allows students to complete their application by November 1 for an admission decision by December. The caveat for this opportunity is if you are accepted, you must attend this college; there is a “binding” obligation to attend. Furthermore, you must withdraw all other college applications. However, there are some exceptions to this irrevocable commitment. One of the most significant factors is financial aid. If the college does not award you sufficient financial assistance, you can refuse admission. Additionally, some students have had their mandatory admissions waived when there have been unforeseeable circumstances relating to illness or family. The benefits of ED are many including increased chances of acceptance, increased availability of financial aid awards, early completion of the college admissions process, and a more relaxed, leisurely read of your application in contrast to the hectic regular decision cycle review. I suggest all students complete at least one ED application for a college they would attend if admitted. It should be your dream, reach school.
The other type of early admissions is referred to as EA where you can apply to a college before the usual deadline of January 1, but it is “not binding” like ED. The benefits of applying EA are similar to ED in that you are competing against fewer students improving your odds of being admitted, you are considered for financial aid before the regular decision students, and you receive your college admissions’ decision sooner. I recommend students apply EA to all colleges that offer this option.
Colleges also benefit from early admissions by selecting students who can fill critical needs for the next academic year. For example, identifying full tuition-paying students to balance the budget or students for a particular major. Additionally, early admits are a guaranteed student population to meet enrollment management numbers early in the process. Whereas with regular admits, there is only a 30% yield rate from the total application pool; many students apply, but do not accept admission. As a result, universities are now selecting the majority of their students in these earlier first rounds of admissions leaving very limited seats left for the students who apply through the traditional regular admissions process. Hence, these students face an ever-increasing higher competition resulting in much lower acceptance rates.
Every year, college admissions’ responsibility is to admit a new class of freshman who fit the institution’s values, and most importantly, are academically successful. The admissions processes morph as new strategies are implemented that are increasingly more effective. Early admissions, which started back in the 1950s, is now becoming ever so popular with over 60% of the incoming freshman being selected during this time.
Students who want to be a part of this early wave of acceptances must start their college admissions process sooner to be ready to submit their applications in November. Prepare over the summer of your junior year when the common application opens on August 1. Start gathering all your information before then. As the saying goes, “The early bird gets the worm.”
Dr. Gina La Monica has a Doctorate in Education and has worked as a high school counselor, college administrator, and professor at many universities and colleges including the University of California, Los Angeles, California Lutheran University, California State University, Northridge, San Diego State University, etc. She was a tenured professor and an expert in career technical education and adult learning. She currently teaches at a local college and helps students of all ages from kindergarten to the university level with career exploration, college admissions, learning assessment, tutoring, and education plans.