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Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision: The Pros and Cons

We are right in the heat of application season, and students have many options for how to apply. So I wanted to share with you the pros and cons of the different early options.


Early Action


Early action is non-binding. This can be a great option for your first choice of school. It’s a way for you to demonstrate to a school that it is your first choice. You find out if you are accepted, deferred to regular decision, or rejected earlier, typically in December. One thing to keep in mind though is the applicant pool for early action or early decision is typically more competitive than the regular decision applicant pool. So even though the acceptance rate is higher for early action, your chance of getting in my not be as favorable as it looks on paper.


So what are the pros of early action? The acceptance rate is higher for early action. You are demonstrating your intent to the school. You get to find out early if you were excepted to your top choice school, which can make the entire process much less stressful. Early action is great because it’s non-binding, so it doesn’t put you in a poor negotiating position for financial aid.


The cons of early action are minimal because it is non-binding. I definitely recommend choosing it for your first choice school. Do keep in mind however that the applicant pool is more competitive, and you are likely competing against recruited athletes.The one exception to my early action recommendation is Stanford. Stanford does not defer many early applicants, which means you will likely not get a second look if you are not selected in the early action pool. Because Stanford gives athletic scholarships the early action applicant pool is highly competitive and contains a significant number of recruited athletes. Keep that in mind when considering early action to Stanford.


Early Decison


I typically do not recommend applying to any school early decision. Early decision is a binding agreement between the applicant and the school that if the applicant is accepted to the school he or she will attend. Typically you, your parents, and your high school counselor have to sign an agreement associated with early decision. The biggest reason I do not recommend applying early decision in most situations is because you can be at a disadvantage for financial aid. Most schools will say this is not factored into their financial aid determination; however, there are no statistics to demonstrate this one way or the other. You remove your biggest financial aid bargaining chip of getting additional offers by going the route of early decision.


So what are the pros of early decision? For your top choice school you can demonstrate interest and find out if you got into it early. The acceptance rates are higher for early decision applicants. Accepting early decision applicants allows colleges to keep their yield rates high. Keep in mind, again, that the applicant pool is more competitive so this is not as advantageous as it appears on paper.


The biggest con of early decision is that it is binding. You need to think a long time if you have any doubts about going to a school or would choose another school over the early decision school. Make sure the enrollment is contingent on the financial aid package and that the agreement can be broken for financial reasons.


Here are some great articles and resources for helping you make this decision:




Chapter 26 of this ebook: http://www.testprepauthority.com/whyyougetrejected/


Let me know your take on it in the comments!


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