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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

Regular Admission, Early Action, and Early Decision Applications: Everything You Need to Know

There are three options when applying to colleges to pursue your undergraduate degree. You can apply by the normal deadline, you can apply early action, or you can apply early decision. Although not all schools offer all three options, many universities offer more than one admissions deadline. It’s critical to read the instructions for each school carefully and to think strategically about your own choice.

In this piece, we give a breakdown of each application type, and provide some insight on how to make a decision on which deadline is right for you.

Regular Admission

The regular admission deadline for most schools is in December or January. You’ll then know where you’ve been accepted in early spring (March or April). There are no limits on how many schools you can apply to. If you apply to all schools by the normal admission deadline, you’ll hear your admission status within the same few weeks.

At that point you can contemplate your decision among the schools you have been accepted to and make the best decision possible.

The regular admissions deadline also, of course, has the advantage of giving you more time to work on your application and perfect your test scores.

Early Action

Early action and early decision plans require applications to be submitted in October or November. However, both also provide applicants with an early decision. Prospective students will know their admission status by December or January, when most students are just submitting their applications.

Early action is a non-binding application which means if your application is accepted, you don’t have to attend the school. That means that students can apply early action at many schools and know their admission status to all of them much earlier than the standard student.

Knowing their admissions decision earlier can give students more time to plan. Students can consider not only which schools they were accepted to may be their top choice, but also which schools are most financially feasible or offer the best scholarship opportunities.

Another advantage of applying early action is that you don’t have to tell the universities your decision right away. Even if you submitted your application early, you are still able to wait until the regular deadline to announce your decision. That decision may be an acceptance or a decline of the admissions offer.

Early Decision

If you decide to apply early decision, you will submit your application at a similar time to early action applicants and hear your admissions decision in a similar timeframe as well.

The difference is that early decision is binding. You can only apply early decision to one school, and if you are admitted, you must accept the offer of admission.

In other words, you must be fully confident in your decision that you want to attend the university you are applying early decision to. If accepted, you are required to withdraw any other active applications you have to other colleges.

There is one caveat. You are permitted to turn down an acceptance from an early decision application if you are not awarded enough financial aid from the university to afford attendance. If a suitable amount of aid is awarded, attendance is required.

If you are not accepted, you will be rejected or will receive a deferral. If you are rejected, you are not permitted to apply again until the following year. If you are deferred, you are allowed to apply to the university again by the regular admissions deadline. You are also allowed to apply to any other university you choose (and however many you wish).

A few schools that offer the option of early decision include Cornell, Amherst, Northwestern, and Duke. Some schools actually offer two early decision deadlines. These both have the same rules, but the second deadline provides students some extra time to decide if they want to apply early decision. Some of the universities which have two early decision deadlines are Vanderbilt, Emory, Pomona, Tufts, and Syracuse.

In Sum

Applying regular decision, early action, or early decision are all suitable methods for applying to colleges. It’s important to think carefully about the decision you make for each university. If you aren’t positive you want to attend a school, regular decision or early action may be the best choice.

On the other hand, if you’re confident in which school you want to go to, early decision may take off some of the stress from the application process and save you money on other applications.


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