Early Action Versus Early Decision: Everything You Need to Make the Right Choice

WeAdmit Master Guides
September 5, 2019
After Finishing The Long Journey Of SATs And GPAs, It’s Time To Officially Apply For College...

There are three options you can consider when submitting your college application: early action, early decision, and regular decision. When it comes to deciding from these three options it all comes down to whether or not you’re ready to commit to one school; before seeing all of your possible acceptance letters.

If you’re positive about where you want to go and feel ready to commit to one college almost an entire year early, you might lean towards early decision. But, if you feel torn between two or more schools, early action might be the best option for you, allowing you to keep your options open.

Either way, the most important thing to remember is that deciding where you’ll go to college is a big deal, and you’ll need to fully understand early action versus early decision before you commit to either one!

What You’ll Find In This Article:

The Difference Between Early Action And Early Decision

There are many myths surrounding the topic of college’s early action versus early decision programs.

Some of these myths question the legitimacy of acceptance rates, whether colleges prefer early action or early decision, and if they either program can even provide an advantage for the applicant. While the two share many things in common, there are a few small, yet very important differences that you’ll need to know.


Early action is a program some colleges offer in which applications are due early, usually between November 1st and November 15th. Acceptance or rejection letters are likewise sent out early, usually sometime in December. However, an answer isn’t required until the regular date of May 1st.

Students who apply for a college through early action are serious about attending, but are still looking at other schools at the same time. Think of it this way: it’s a way for the student to express their strong interest in the college without making a final decision just yet.

Early action tells the school that you are willing to make a commitment, but only after you weigh all of your options carefully, because this application option gives you precisely that: the advantage of applying early while maintaining the freedom to explore other options.


The answer is a resounding “Yes!” In fact, it’s encouraged.

Applying early action to multiple schools could benefit you tremendously. The first perk is that you’ll get all your college applications done early, so you won’t have to worry about them throughout the holiday season. This is, of course, if you decide to complete all of your intended applications through early action and submit them by the November deadlines.

You could also split your applications. This means you would submit applications for your top choices under early action and complete your other applications at the same time, but wait before submitting them. Once you receive responses from your early action applications in December, you can decide whether or not you want to proceed with your other applications, submitting them by the regular decision deadlines in January and February.

This route could give you a sense of having a “back-up plan,” and also save you money if you end up not needing to submit multiple regular decision applications.

Another great perk of applying to multiple colleges through early action is that you don’t have to commit to a school until the regular deadline of May 1st. You can get your applications done early, and then take your time comparing and contrasting your offers.


Early action matters because of how many ways it can serve you. It’s an excellent way to show colleges that you are serious about attending, but at the same time, it gives you the time and freedom to consider all of your options before making a final choice.

Early action is a great option for students who want to finish their college applications early, emphasize their interest in particular schools, and have the same decision time frame as regular deadline students.


Early decision is much like early action but with a higher level of commitment attached to it. This is because early decision applications are known as “binding”. If you are accepted to a college with an early decision application, you are committed to attending that school. You are also required to withdraw all other applications to other schools.

Applying under early decision is for students who have completed a substantial amount of research and have narrowed their college search to just one school. They are positive that that school is the one that will provide them with the education and opportunities they are looking for. However, even if a student is certain that only one school is right for them, it is highly recommended that they also apply to other schools, either under early action or regular decision.


It’s easy to see the gravity that early decision applications hold. The binding nature alone is enough to make a college admissions officer look through an application more than once. That kind of commitment so early in the college application process is a big deal.

Ultimately, early decision matters because of the weight it carries. This is why it is so important that you don’t use this option lightly. You could get stuck going to a school you weren’t that serious about in the first place or, even worse, you could be without a plan for what was supposed to be your first year of college because you didn’t put aback-up plan in place.

If you’re planning on going early decision, do your research beforehand. You can never be too sure, especially when you could potentially be committed to a school before seeing all of your options.

The Pros And Cons Of Early Action

It's widely known that at some colleges, applying early action or early decision can give students “an edge”. Colleges understand that this kind of commitment shows a high level of responsibility and seriousness, and this often makes a student’s application more appealing as a result.


  • Shows the college that you’re serious
  • Expresses interest while keeping your options open
  • Gives you time to consider other financial aid options
  • Gives you a head start

If you apply early action, this means that your application will be in the first grouping that the admissions office receives, and this can increase your odds of being accepted, even just slightly. Colleges love early action applications because they know that the applicants genuinely want to be students there. Even though early action is not as binding as early decision, this type of application still shows the college that you’re serious about going there.

If you are accepted, you may have to accept the offer earlier than the usual “decision day” but you’ll still have kept your options open in case you get accepted to other schools.

Additionally, a huge benefit of choosing early action is the time it gives you. When your early action offers come in, you’ll be able to see which schools offered you more or less financial aid or scholarships.


  • The application has to be completed earlier
  • More pressure when it’s time to make a decision
  • Longer wait to hear back from other colleges

Early action applications are usually due between November 1st and 15th. This means you’ll be spending the majority of the beginning of your senior year finishing college applications. But, this also means that you’ll be done sooner. This could either be a pro or a con depending on how busy you are at the beginning of your school year, and how much you want to prioritize college applications.

Another drawback that comes with early action is the time crunch. Since you’ll be receiving your acceptance or rejection letter earlier than the regular timeframe, you may feel pressured to decide immediately. This is especially true if you applied for other schools under regular decision.

Fortunately, for early action you usually don’t have to make a final choice right away. If weighing all your options is important to you, you’ll have to wait until you receive all of your letters before you can begin comparing and contrasting.


The deadlines for early action are usually between November 1st and November 15th. This would be in the fall of your senior year; one year before you would start college. Because of the early nature of the deadline, the early action process is much faster, meaning you’ll receive your acceptance or rejection letter sometime mid-December.

However, you don’t have to give your answer to the school until May 1st, which is the usual date for accepting or rejecting a college’s offer.


Some colleges now offer a happy medium between early action and early decision. This program is usually called “single-choice early action”.

The single-choice early action application can only be used for one school, just like early decision. However, you get the benefit of not being committed to the school if you get accepted, and you get to wait until May 1st to make your decision if you need that extra time. This option gives you the boost of an early decision application with all the benefits of early action, making it a nice middle ground if you’re torn between the two.

The Pros And Cons Of Early Decision

In contrast to early action, early decision is a much more binding application option. Early decision is a no-frills, straightforward process and it should only be used if the student isn’t interested in going to any other schools. There are equal parts benefits and disadvantages to early decision.


  • Shows the college a strong level of commitment
  • You know exactly where you’ll go if you get accepted

When applying through early decision (if you get accepted) you’ll be assured of where you’re going to college for the majority of your senior year. Assuming that your early decision application was for your top-choice school, you’ll also be going to your dream school!

Early decision also gives your application an extra emphasis. Admissions officers take note of the level of commitment that comes along with early decision, and though it may be frowned upon, this has been shown to increase your odds of being accepted.

Remember, however, that early decision acceptance rates have a wide range and are completely different from school to school. For 2018, some schools had an early decision acceptance rate of 80%, and some fell as low as 16%. Your acceptance will ultimately depend on the quality of your application, so don’t neglect your GPA, SAT scores, or personal essay just because you plan to apply early decision.


  • You can only apply to one college under early decision
  • You have to withdraw any other applications if you’re accepted
  • You can’t compare what other colleges may offer you
  • A rejection or deferral could put a hold on your entire college acceptance process

Early decision can only be used with one application, so you have to be confident that this school is your top choice. If you get accepted under early decision, all other college applications must be withdrawn and you will be locked into going to that college.

Additionally, if you’re thinking about applying to a college under early decision, it would be wise to apply for other schools you may be interested in either under early action or regular decision. This way, if you receive a rejection or deferral letter from your top choice school, you won’t be scrambling to apply to another school before the regular deadline.

With early decision, you’ll also never know what other schools may have offered you in terms of financial aid or scholarships before making your final choice.

Since you have to withdraw your application so early in the year, you won’t have the chance to shop around and plan your finances as much as someone applying through regular decision or early action.

Finally, if your application is rejected under early decision, you’ll have to wait another year before applying to that same school again. This means you’ll either have to wait a year to start college or spend a year at a school that isn’t your top choice. If your application is deferred, however, it’ll be held for future reference. The admissions office will go over your application again with the rest of the regular applicants, meaning you can pursue other schools while they review your application further.


Early decision deadlines are usually around the same time as early action deadlines. However, there is some lee-way because every college operates differently. The earliest deadline for early decision is October 31st while some deadlines reach all the way into January.

If you get accepted to a college under early decision they still technically need an official answer, but because of the binding nature of your initial application you are officially committed to that school either way. You have to be 100% sure that you want to go there, because, upon acceptance, you are required to withdraw any other college applications you may have submitted.

This means that if you change your mind and back out of your agreement with that college, there is a strong possibility that you won’t be going to college immediately after you graduate.


Some schools now offer a program called Early Decision II. It is still binding, meaning that if you are accepted you are committed to going to that school. You are also still only allowed to apply early decision to one school under Early Decision II.

This means that the main difference between Early Decision II and normal early decision is that the deadline for Early Decision II is usually in January, which is the deadline for regular decision as well. Acceptance and rejection letters for this application are sent out in late January or early February.

Early Decision II can give students the best of both worlds: the commitment of early decision with a later deadline. This later deadline could enable you to take your time with the application or raise your GPA, if either are a concern for you.

What About Regular Decision

When compared with early action or early decision, regular decision is a very low-key process, and it’s the option most students go with. With regular decision, you aren’t tied to any particular school, and the deadlines are usually in January.


  • More time to improve your grades
  • Less pressure to decide
  • You can weigh all options carefully
  • You can shop around for scholarships and financial aid

Unlike early action and early decision, regular decision applications usually aren’t due until January 1st. If you think you need more time to raise your GPA or develop your writing skills, it might be best to hold off for regular decision. The time this gives you can be indispensable.

Under early action and early decision, it can be easy to feel the pressure to make a decision.  With regular decision, this pressure is a lot less prevalent.

Most likely, if you apply to multiple colleges under regular decision, you’ll be waiting to hear back from all of them until you make your final choice. This time frame can range anywhere from one to two months, so the pressure to decide quickly is lessened. Colleges are aware that their applicants are weighing their options, and they’ll most likely be checking in with you to see if you’ve reached a decision periodically until the final deadline.


  • Your application has more competition
  • A longer wait to receive an acceptance letter

With regular decision, your application will be submitted along with the majority of other applicants. Admissions officers go through thousands of applications, so making yours stand out could be more difficult under regular decision.

Since early action and early decision are reviewed so early, they also send out acceptance letters earlier. With regular decision, they send acceptance letters around March or April. This means that if you happen to be rejected from your top-choice school, you’ll feel more of a time crunch because you’re waiting for other potential acceptance letters to see where you’ll go in the fall.


Regular decision offers plenty of benefits for the majority of students applying to college.

This option is important for students who feel they need more time to improve the material in their application. Whether that means improving grades, completing an important extracurricular activity, or raising their GPA, the later deadline of regular decision can greatly aid these students.

You should consider this question: Would you rather submit a mediocre early decision application or an absolutely stellar regular decision application?

You have to think about where you will shine the most. If you have a great academic record at the beginning of your senior year, and you feel as if your early decision application is ready, then go for it. But, if you think your application would look better after a few more months of hard work, then there’s nothing wrong with waiting. It’s far better to wait and submit a great application than hastily apply to college early simply because you want to get it over with.

Early Action, Early Decision, Or Regular Decision: Which Is Right For You?

The pros and cons of each application option will depend on each student’s priorities and goals. Weigh your options carefully to see which option will serve you best during the application process.


The student who applies to college under an early action deadline has a strong interest in one or more schools. They are ready to commit to a certain school, but still want to keep their options open so they can compare offers, financial aid packages, and tuition costs. However, while their options are open, they most likely had one or more schools listed as their “top choice,” and would be happy going to either of these schools.

By applying early action, t wanted to show their top choice schools that they were serious about attending. They may have even applied to other colleges under regular decision to see if they get offered more financial aid or as safety schools. Overall, early action is perfect for the student who has their sights set on multiple first choice schools, but want to keep their options open.


The student who applies to only one college under an early decision deadline has a strong academic record and has completed a substantial amount of research on this top college. This type of student usually has only one first choice, so they want to do everything they can to make their application stand out.

Note: This type of student should also apply to other schools, either under early action or regular decision, just in case they receive a rejection letter from their first choice school.

The early decision option is great for the student who knows exactly where they want to go to college. This could be for many reasons: maybe their parents went there, or maybe that particular college is the only one that offers a specific major they’re interested in. Perhaps that college carries a certain prestige they want to be a part of.

Overall, early decision is the highest emphasis any student can put on their application, and college admission officers don't take that lightly. However, it shouldn’t be used without plenty of research and a strong backup plan.


The student who applies under regular decision has a general interest in multiple schools, and they want time to complete their applications so they are the best they can be. This student may also want time to raise their GPA before they officially send in their application.

Regular decision students likely have several first choice schools, just like the student who applied under early action. The only difference is, this student would like to avoid the pressure of deciding early.

They place a high priority on the time it takes to weigh all their options.

This student would want to wait for all the acceptance or rejection letters to come in before they make a decision. This may be to see who offers more financial aid or compare which college has better opportunities for what they want to pursue.

Which Will You Choose?

Ultimately, early action and early decision are fantastic options for students who have a good idea of where they would like to go to college. Of course, that doesn’t negate regular decision. Regular decision applications are the majority of what colleges receive, and with good reason; they simply don’t carry the same level of commitment as early action or early decision, and for many students they’re the best choice.

Deciding whether early action, early decision, or regular decision is right for you is no easy task. If you’re still unsure about which deadline to submit your application under, then one of WeAdmit’s counselors can help. This is why we’re here: to look at each student’s individual situation and help you take the steps that are right for you.

No Matter When You’re Thinking Of Applying For College, Our Goal Is To Make Your Application The Strongest It Can Be So You Can Go To The College Of Your Dreams!



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