Should I apply early to college? Understanding the pros and cons of early action and early decision

Post By: COYD Staff

This week we are going to discuss topics that juniors enjoying their summer should ¬†“actively” be thinking about.¬†Today we are going to discuss the pros and cons of applying early. As most of you already know, there are 3 types of early admission programs: early decision, early action, single-choice early action.

early decision or early action

Early admissions programs are not for everybody. To figure out if you should apply early to your top choice school, you need to weigh the pros and cons of these early admissions programs.

Pros and Cons

1. Pro and Con: Higher percentage of early applicants is admitted BUT the early applicant pool is generally more competitive.

Almost across the board, there is a higher acceptance rate for early applicants than a university’s regular decision acceptance rate. For example, Yale’s 2010 acceptance rate for regular decision was 5.8% and their early action acceptance rate was 17.7%. Princeton’s 2010 regular decision acceptance rate was 7.8% and their early decision acceptance rate was 27%.

HOWEVER, the early applicant pool generally tends to be more competitive. So if your scores are not what you want them to be, you might want to use your senior year to bolster your grades, SAT scores and extracurriculars to improve your application. Remember you can only submit one application to each university so if you are rejected early action/decision, you can not apply again during regular decision.

2. Pro: Get it out of the way so you can enjoy your senior year

3. Pro: More time to apply for scholarships.

4. Con: Early Decision’s binding decision might provide less financial aid options for early decision applicants.

If you apply early decision, you must attend that school if accepted and given a reasonable financial aid package. However, since you have to withdraw any applications upon acceptance, you won’t be able to accept other financial aid packages because you won’t have applied to other schools.

If financial aid is a big issue, you need to do your research on the school’s financial aid program. Try to find out if they have guaranteed scholarships. For instance, for many of the most selective schools in the country, there are guaranteed scholarship for students whose household income is below a certain amount. Go to a previous posting titled You can afford to go to college: Automatic guaranteed scholarships are out there for more information. Secondly, you should know that most of the nation’s top schools do not award merit-based financial aid. However, you can apply for private scholarships outside of your university’s financial aid program that are merit-based.


After you weigh the pros and cons of applying early and decide to apply early, you need to start preparing NOW. Deadlines for early action and early decision are usually between November 1 – December 1. Below are things you should start now:

1) Download the application and start reviewing it.

DON’T apply for more than one early decision school. Top schools often share lists of early applicants. If your name appears on more than one list, you might be barred from all these top schools.

If you are applying early action, make sure you read the guidelines very carefully. Not all early action programs allow you to apply to multiple early programs. For instance, Stanford has a Restrictive Early Action Program which allows you to apply to multiple schools during regular decision but not early.

2) Figure out who you want to write your letters of recommendation.

And ask them immediately after school starts. If you are asking someone outside your school for a letter of recommendation, then you should ask him/her right now. Why wait? Giving somebody the most amount of time shows that you respect and value their time.

3) Begin brainstorming your essay right now and have a first draft done before you start school.

Senior year is hectic. Besides the more rigorous academic schedule and the leadership positions you will hold as a senior in high school, you will be also be applying to college. Use your summer to alleviate the stress of the admissions process.

4) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Just because you applied early to one school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start working on the other regular decision applications. You will receive a decision by mid-December but a lot of the times, this doesn’t give you enough time to start and finish another application from scratch. If you receive a rejection from your early decision/action school, you need to have a backup plan and you should have started those regular decision applications already. Don’t wait till mid-December to start them. Some schools have January 1 deadlines and that will only give you a couple of weeks to start and finish that application. Always prepare the worst!


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