Applying for Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) can be confusing. The process varies from school to school, and there are a number of restrictions in place. We’ve put together some information about these programs to clarify what they are as well as point out the differences between the two.
Applicants for Early Action must submit their applications by November 1. Because of this early submission, notification of acceptance or rejection is given by mid-December as opposed to April 1st. If an application is accepted, they can choose to to commit to the college at that time or may decide to wait until they hear back from other schools. This makes Early Action non-binding.
While many EA programs allow students to apply to other schools simultaneously (EA or regular admission), some EA programs are restrictive or “single choice”. This means that applicants to these programs cannot submit Early Action or Early Decision applications to other schools. Harvard, Yale, and Stanford are a few notable schools with restrictive EA programs. Always be sure to check a school’s EA restrictions before submitting applications.
Though you may believe colleges won’t find out if you break their restrictions, a number of applicants have been caught over the years. Admissions officers talk and compare notes. If they find that an applicant has breached the EA agreement, neither school will look at the application any further. If you plan on applying to one of these schools, take the EA restrictions seriously!
Early Decision starts off very similarly to Early Action. An ED applicant must submit their application by November 1 in expectation of knowing if they are accepted or not by mid-December.
The key difference is that Early Decision is binding. This means that if an applicant is accepted for Early Decision they must attend that school and withdraw all other college applications. The majority of Early Decision programs will allow you to still submit EA applications to other schools. However, you are not allowed to submit other ED applications. Some ED programs, such as the one at Georgetown, do not even allow you to submit EA applications if you apply for Early Decision.
To make the process even more confusing, schools will often very their application specifications from year to year. For this reason you should always contact the school directly or visit their website to learn about their EA and ED programs.
Hopefully these points have helped to provide some clarification about the Early Action and Early Decision application process. Remember, when in doubt go right to the source. The admissions officers at your college of choice will be able to answer any questions you have about their EA and ED programs!