Early Decision vs. Early Action: Determining the Best Choice for Your Student

By Huntington Learning Center

Fall of senior year is packed with activity. From last-chance SAT/ACT exam dates to requesting and collecting letters of recommendation to application deadlines, seniors will be busy. If your student is ahead of the game and wants to get their applications submitted sooner than later, applying by early decision or early action might be a great idea. It’s important to understand what those terms mean and how they can affect your student’s college decision. 

What is early decision?  

Early decision applicants can only apply early to their one top choice school. Applicants who apply this way are agreeing to enroll in a college if they get accepted—or in other words, the student’s decision is binding. Applications tend to be due in early November with admissions decisions being sent to students by mid-December.  

Early decision is much more restrictive than early action. If accepted, students must withdraw all other applications submitted via regular application deadlines. They are typically asked to send in a nonrefundable deposit far in advance of May 1, the typical acceptance deadline.  

What is early action?  

Like early decision, early action applicants can apply earlier, but the biggest difference is that early action allows students to apply to multiple colleges. Students also do not have to commit to the college until the typical reply date of May 1. Again, applications are due in mid-November, with students getting notified of admissions decisions by mid-December.  

Early action is a little more flexible in two important ways. First, applicants do not need to commit to offers of admittance upon receiving them. And second, applicants do not need to hold back on applying to other colleges if they wish. However, there are some exceptions to this. At Princeton, for example, students can choose from regular decision application deadlines or single-choice early action deadlines that mean they may not apply to an early program at any other private college or university (but applying early to non-binding public colleges/universities is OK). The rules are similar at Yale and Harvard.  

Which is better for your student?  

These two types of applications are different, and depending on your student’s goals, one could be a better fit. A few things to consider:  

  • Early decision might appeal to a student who has one clear top college pick. If the student knows for certain that they would attend that college if accepted, early decision is a good way to go.  
  • Early action might appeal to a student who has several top choices and would like to get a jump start on their application process to find out where they gain acceptance. These students might want to compare financial aid offers at several schools before they make their decision.  
  • Applying early, whether early decision or early action, is best for students who have done their research on their top college(s), are prepared with a solid application, and are confident about their top college choice(s).  
  • A big benefit of either approach is that students can get the daunting task of college applications done sooner than later in their senior year. And if none of those early applications result in acceptance, your student will be ahead of the game with all materials ready to go to apply to their next-in-line colleges via their regular admission deadlines.  

Keep in mind that applying early is a great way for your student to set themselves apart as a prepared, motivated student who is interested in a particular school. It’s important for your student to put their best foot forward by presenting the best grades and test scores. Huntington can help with this. If your student is taking the SAT/ACT, our personalized test prep programs will help your student increase their scores and make their dream school a reality. To start off strong as freshmen and sophomores (or raise grades as juniors), consider our tutoring programs for high school students. Huntington can help students build the skills and confidence to succeed academically and improve their grades (to get into the college of their choice). Learn more about Huntington’s summer tutoring programs for students of all ages. 

Applying early isn’t for every student.  

If your student could use the fall semester of senior year to strengthen their GPA, retake the SAT/ACT one final time to get a better score or do more research on colleges, early action/early decision might not be for them.  

Perhaps your student needs the extra time to make the important college decision. While they are doing so, they can put their best foot forward by enrolling in a Huntington SAT/ACT prep program and/or tutoring program. Encourage your student to finish high school strong to put together the very best application package possible. Call 1-800 CAN LEARN to hear more about how Huntington helps students boost their GPAs and their confidence and get into the colleges of their choice.