early action vs early decision

Early Action vs Early Decision: Choosing the best application strategy for you

Applying to college means keeping track of a slew of essays, documents, and deadlines. Deciding which college application deadlines, early action vs early decision, align with your college application goals can be challenging. Comparing Early Action and Early Decision can seem outright overwhelming for many.

When considering Early Action vs Early Decision, it really all comes down to understanding the terms and how they relate to you. Personal research and college application guidance can help you decide between Early Action vs Early Decision deadlines. If you’re not already familiar with these deadlines, this is a great place to start.

In this Early Action vs Early Decision article, we’ll help you better understand these early college application deadlines. Ultimately, once we’re through, you’ll be one step closer to crafting the best college admissions plan for you.

As you begin comparing Early Action vs Early Decision, this guide will cover: 

  • An overview of the college admissions process
  • Defining Early Action vs Early Decision
  • Pros and cons of applying Early Action vs Early Decision
  • Comparing Early Action vs Early Decision deadlines at top schools
  • Choosing the best college application deadlines for you

Now, let’s dive into the basics of college application deadlines and what they entail. If you’d rather jump straight to our comparison of Early Action vs Early Decision deadlines, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

Understanding the college application process

During the college application process, students will have to complete various requirements for each school on their list. At the very least, all schools ask for basic information like your transcript, often through online platforms like the Common Application. In addition to the requirements of the platform, most also have school-specific requirements. Usually, these include additional essays, which can be one of the most time-consuming pieces of the application puzzle.

All of these pieces together will make up your complete Common Application. In order to complete each part of your Common Application to the best of your ability, you’ll need plenty of time. That’s where choosing your application deadline for each school comes into play.

College Application Deadlines

When considering deadlines, it’s important to think about your college goals. Which college application deadline will help you to get there? Does their early deadline suit you better for your dream school than a Regular Decision deadline?

There are plenty of strategies that come with deciding the best deadline for you. Ultimately, the choice comes down to your needs, preferences, and college goals. However, since there are so many nuances in the application process for each student, personalized college application guidance can also be helpful.

But, first and foremost, when deciding college application deadlines, students must understand the difference between early admissions plans. There are both pros and cons to applying to a school’s Early Action deadline or Early Decision deadline. Comparing Early Action vs Early Decision is a key to your overall application strategy, so don’t discount looking beyond Regular Decision. 

Now, let’s kick off our discussion of Early Action vs Early Decision with an in-depth explanation of each. We’ll begin with a discussion of what to expect from an Early Action deadline. 

What is Early Action?

early action vs early decision

While you may have heard of Regular and Early Decision deadlines, Early Action deadlines may be completely new to you. If you have heard of it, you may have questions, like “Can you apply Early Action to multiple schools?” Don’t worry! You’re not alone—many students have only just begun to learn the nuances of the many college application deadlines. However, as we’ve mentioned, understanding them is a key first step in crafting a winning application strategy. 

As the name implies, Early Action deadlines usually fall well before other deadlines, often in November. However, they could even be as early as mid-October depending on the school. When students apply to the Early Action deadline, they will receive an admissions decision earlier than those that apply Regular Decision. In fact, some schools release decisions as early as mid-December. You can be deferred in Early Action, meaning your application will be entered into the Regular Decision pool.

Most public institutions have EA programs. For instance, the University of Virginia has an Early Action deadline of November 1—the same as the Early Decision deadline. On the other hand, some schools don’t have an Early Action deadline at all. For example, there is no Boston University Early Action deadline; however, the university does offer two Early Decision deadlines. The Early Decision 1 deadline is November 1st and the Early Decision 2 deadline is January 4th. So, even though students can’t apply to Boston University Early Action, they can still complete their Common Application for an earlier application date. Since there is no Boston University Early Action deadline, students who apply Early Decision will enter into a binding agreement. Let’s talk a little more about what we mean by non-binding vs binding admissions.

Non-binding Agreement

Admitted students who applied for the Early Action deadline will receive non-binding offers. This means that they are not obliged to attend that school even though they were accepted. They can consider their other offers before making their final decision by May 1.

When considering applying Early Action vs Early Decision, you must strategize around the deadlines your schools offer. Most of the time, you can apply ED to one school and EA to other schools. However, if you gain acceptance to the school where you applied ED, you must attend regardless of your EA status at another school. This is why students need to carefully consider Early Action vs Early Decision deadlines when completing the Common Application.

Restrictive Early Action/Single-Choice Early Action

If EA is non-binding, can you apply Early Action to multiple schools? Usually, yes. However, this is not the case for Restrictive Early Action programs. Restrictive Early Action is still non-binding, but it means that students may not apply for any other institutions’ Early Action or Early Decision deadlines. However, you may apply to other schools’ Regular Decision deadlines. In other words, applying somewhere under Restrictive Early Action prevents you from sending any other early applications.

Schools may offer Restrictive Early Action options under different names, like Single-Choice Early Action. In fact, Harvard offers Restrictive Early Action, which is similar to Yale’s Single-Choice Early Action program—just with a different name.

To recap: can you apply Early Action to multiple schools? Yes. Unlike Early Decision, normal Early Action allows you to apply to multiple schools. But remember the exception to this rule: Restrictive Early Action. If you send an REA application, it will be your only early application to any school. 

Benefits of applying early action

early action vs early decision

So, why do students choose to apply for an Early Action deadline? Applying for an Early Action deadline is a great move for many competitive and motivated applicants. Here are some benefits of applying Early Action: 

  • You’ll receive an admissions decision earlier than those who applied Regular Decision. 
  • When applying to an Early Action deadline, it’s non-binding; you aren’t obligated to enroll if accepted. 
  • Students can apply to multiple schools through non-restrictive Early Action. 
  • An Early Action application requires students to prepare their materials earlier, making any Regular Decision applications that much easier. 

Joanne Pluff, CollegeAdvisor admissions consultant and former admissions officer, compares Early Action vs Early Decision deadlines in this webinar. Specifically, when it comes to the pros of Early Action vs Early Decision, Joanne speaks positively about applying Early Action:

“I think it’s less stressful … I really wanted extra time to prepare to be a college student … When the decisions started coming in, it gave me time to visit and reassess and really figure out the things that I wanted in the college that I wanted to attend. I applied only [to] Early Action schools, and I think it really does benefit [the student and parents].” 

Joanne Pluff

Does Early Action increase chances?

early action vs early decision

When considering Early Action vs Early Decision, or even Regular Decision, most applicants think that early applicants have better odds. Many applicants considering an Early Action deadline wonder, “Does Early Action increase chances of admission?” Based on numbers alone, Early Action rounds generally have higher acceptance rates—when compared to Regular Decision. This means that when wondering, “Does Early Action increase chances of gaining acceptance?”, the answer is oftentimes yes.

However, that said, the difference between Regular Decision vs. Early Action vs Early Decision acceptance rates isn’t always significant. They may differ only by a few percentage points. Furthermore, the percentages don’t tell the whole story: early applicants are often applying to their top choices with strong applications. So, students with impressive transcripts and application materials are more common in the early rounds. 

So, does Early Action increase the chances of gaining admissions for everyone in the pool? Well, let’s take a look at some numbers to get a better understanding. 

Early Action vs Regular Decision – MIT

MIT is one of the most competitive Early Action colleges in the nation with an overall acceptance rate of 4.8%. The MIT Early Action acceptance rate for the Class of 2027 was 5.7%. The Regular Decision acceptance rate for that same year was 3.8% (excluding the deferred applicants from MIT Early Action). Because of the higher MIT Early Action acceptance rate, many students plan to meet that earlier deadline in order to increase their odds. Although, as you can see, the margin isn’t that large.

Early Action vs Regular Decision – Stanford University

Let’s look at another one of the top Early Action colleges in the nation. Stanford University had a record low overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2026 at 3.68%. Similar to many universities and Early Action colleges, the Stanford Early Action acceptance rate wasn’t formally released. However, the Stanford Early Action admissions rate is almost certainly some degree higher than the general admit rate. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the Stanford Early Action plan is restrictive—non-binding regarding acceptance, but you can only send one early application. 

Is early action always better?

Early Action provides several important benefits for thousands of EA applicants to Early Action colleges each year. For students who can assemble a strong application to meet an Early Action deadline, their chances can increase. Even better, an EA application can be reviewed twice if it’s deferred, whereas regular applicants are either in, waitlisted, or out. Moreover, applying EA can demonstrate a high level of interest in the school, making a good impression on admissions.

One key difference between Early Action and Early Decision is the ability of students to compare financial aid options. Early Action colleges require decisions at the same time as Regular Decision, usually in May, so you’ll have time to compare offers. Additionally, Early Action is non-binding, so you can reject schools if their financial aid offers don’t meet your needs.

It’s important to note that some EA decisions don’t come with a financial aid package straight away. Financial aid offers for early applicants, if not sent with the acceptance letter, often come in April. Unlike Early Decision, Early Action allows you to compare financial aid packages without any obligation to attend. Therefore, applicants can make an informed decision about finances when considering Early Action colleges.

There are many Early Action colleges out there, and applying to an Early Action deadline may give you a boost. Between a smaller pool of applicants and the safety net of deferral, Early Action can make a big difference. And yet, some students have good reasons not to apply to Early Action colleges. 

Why not early action?

early action vs early decision

Weighing Early Action vs Early Decision inevitably brings up the downsides of applying early. So what are some reasons not to apply early to Early Action colleges? 

First, there’s the obvious fact that not all schools are Early Action colleges. Additionally, many schools only offer a Restrictive Early Action deadline. If applying ED or Restrictive Early Action, students should be certain that the institution is their top choice. Remember that although a Restrictive Early Action application is non-binding, it does limit your options. Students who want more flexibility shouldn’t apply for Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action. 

Another challenge in applying early is, well, putting together an application early. Certainly, one of the largest challenges for students is gathering all of their Common Application materials to meet the earlier deadline. After all, you don’t want to rush through your application in order to meet the Early Action deadline. You should always make time to craft the best application possible and bolster your chances. In light of the competitiveness of early application rounds, a weak early application can be worse for you. 

And that doesn’t just mean getting college application guidance, revising essays, and requesting recommendation letters. Early deadlines may prevent you from including some interesting activities or leadership positions from your fall semester. If your extracurricular record is lackluster, applying Early Action or Restrictive Early Action gives you less time to add to it.

Many of the pros for some students (getting an admissions decision earlier) can also be considered cons to others (starting the application process earlier). That’s why it’s important to consider your personal needs, motivations, and college list when weighing Early Action vs Early Decision. Everyone’s college journey is different, so consider general college application guidance carefully. Ultimately, you will need to decide what application strategy fits best with your goals. 

Now, let’s explore the flip side of the early application coin: Early Decision. We’ll define the Early Decision deadline and understand what an ED application entails.

What does Early Decision mean?

early action vs early decision

Now that we know all about Early Action deadlines, let’s look at the Early Decision deadline. When you apply Early Decision, you also submit your application early—usually in early November—and receive a decision by December. This decision will typically be one of three options: acceptance, deferral to Regular Decision, or rejection.

We already know the answer to “Can you apply Early Action to multiple schools?” is yes. What about Early Decision? Unlike Early Action schools, you cannot apply Early Decision to multiple schools. However, you can submit non-binding applications to other schools in addition to your ED application.

Binding Agreement

Another important difference is when students apply to an Early Decision deadline, they enter into a binding agreement. This means that acceptance letters from Early Decision colleges obligate you to enroll in that university. Only extenuating circumstances can allow you to turn down an admission offer.

A binding agreement is no joke: applying to multiple schools’ ED or breaking the ED agreement can jeopardize your application. If you breach ED terms, your applications—and even admissions offers from other schools—can be voided. Therefore, students who apply to an Early Decision deadline should think very carefully about their application choices.

Why apply Early Decision?

When considering Early Action vs Early Decision, you should know the benefits of applying to an earlier application deadline. Why enter a binding agreement so early? Does Early Decision increase chances of gaining acceptance? What are the benefits? When it comes to the Early Decision deadline, there are various reasons why students may want to apply.

First and foremost, as we mentioned above, the main difference between Early Action and Early Decision is that an Early Decision application is binding. Therefore, students who choose an Early Decision deadline are confident about their top choice school. This alleviates the stress of having to decide among various options down the line.

By the same token, that confidence is usually built on a strong track record throughout high school. ED applicants usually already have an impressive list of academic and extracurricular achievements when they submit their application. They know their achievements align well with their dream school and put their best foot forward.

Additionally, while meeting earlier college application deadlines can be stressful, finishing them early on can reduce stress later. If you apply to other schools in the Regular Decision round, you already have basic application materials ready. Moreover, since most college application deadlines require a fee, only applying to one school for the Early Decision deadline can save you time and money. 

When weighing Early Action vs Early Decision, committing to a school early with ED can bring peace of mind. Applying early also means that you have more time to prepare yourself for the transition to college. This includes considering housing, packing, and fully enjoying your remaining time in high school before embarking on a new chapter of your life.

Pitfalls of Early Decision 

early action vs early decision

Of course, just as there are benefits to applying to Early Decision colleges, there are downsides. Like with EA, the same pros of submitting an application to an Early Decision deadline can also be cons.

For example, preparing your application early means you need to start early. This requires extra planning and execution. You might even need personalized college application guidance in order to get it all done one time. As with all college application deadlines, you shouldn’t try to meet an Early Decision deadline last minute. Indeed, Early Decision colleges are usually much more competitive, so your application should be flawless. 

In the same respect, it may be difficult to plan visits to Early Decision colleges. Basic college application guidance says that college visits provide great insight into campus culture and can heavily influence your college list. Ideally, you’ll need to compare schools to build your college list, which could even mean multiple visits. Cautious students may not want to apply for an Early Decision deadline without visiting the school. The considerable time and planning that college visits often require can make early college application deadlines challenging to meet. This is one shared point in the Early Action vs Early Decision comparison.

Likewise, finding your dream school is difficult, and your interests may shift as you go through the college application process. Maybe your first-choice school in junior summer isn’t where you want to go by senior spring. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the binding terms of Early Decision deadlines. Early Decision colleges are rather strict about their agreements.

Limited Options with Early Decision Deadlines

In our webinar on college application deadlines and Early Action vs Early Decision deadlines, Joanne Pluff affirms a common EA downside. “You can only prepare to send one Early Decision application.” Early Decision is structured in such a way that applicants commit only to one school, which can be risky.

Therefore, Joanne encourages students to only apply Early Decision if students are set on attending. If students are considering various schools, she states that an Early Decision application isn’t the way to go. So, when comparing Early Action vs Early Decision, this is a major difference. Between Early Action vs Early Decision applications, an Early Decision application is a huge commitment, while Early Action still leaves your options open. 

If a student’s application for the Early Decision deadline is deferred, Early Decision colleges release applicants from the binding agreement. The application goes into the Regular Decision pool, where they may be accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. However, even though you met the Early Decision deadline, these students are no longer obligated to attend.

Early Decision and Financial Aid

Applying to Early Decision colleges also has the disadvantage of impacting financial aid possibilities. While the packages aren’t necessarily smaller than when applying Regular Decision, applying to an Early Decision deadline means that you won’t be able to compare financial aid packages from various schools.

Essentially, applying Early Decision means that you are committed to attending the school, no matter the financial aid package. However, the one exception to getting out of an Early Decision acceptance is being unable to pay the university tuition and fees. Therefore, be sure to consider Early Decision colleges cautiously if you’re concerned about financial aid. 

Does Early Decision increase chances?

early action vs early decision

With so many challenges and cons regarding the Early Decision deadline, you may think it’s easy to decide between Early Action vs Early Decision. However, remember that an Early Decision deadline still has its advantages. An important question many students will consider is, “Does Early Decision increase chances of gaining admission?”. 

As it happens, applying Early Decision can greatly increase your chances of admission. Additionally, many Early Decision colleges have an ED 2 program. This means that you can submit a binding Early Decision application in January, receiving your decision within a couple of months. For Early Decision colleges that value demonstrated interest in their evaluation process, applying ED 2 can significantly increase an applicant’s admissions odds. Indeed, choosing a binding ED deadline, regardless if it is ED I or II, speaks to an applicant’s desire to attend.

Many colleges have incentives to accept more students through a binding ED cycle. However, this isn’t necessarily the case for all Early Decision colleges. Let’s take a look at a couple of top universities to compare Early Action vs Early Decision in terms of acceptance rates. 

Early Decision vs Regular Decision – Cornell

While the Cornell Early Decision acceptance rates aren’t formally released now by the university, the Cornell Early Decision acceptance rate in 2019 was 24%. That’s a significant difference from the Regular Decision acceptance rate of about 9%. Based on the Cornell Early Decision acceptance rate alone, students whose top choice is Cornell would benefit from applying to the Early Decision deadline. This is likely the case for many Ivy League schools.  

Early Decision vs Regular Decision – NYU

We can notice a similar trend at another top university, NYU. There are two NYU Early Decision deadlines—both are ED, and both college application deadlines are binding. While the NYU acceptance rate is 13%, the NYU Early Decision acceptance rate is much higher. As of fall 2019, the NYU Early Decision acceptance rate was almost 28%, against the overall admit rate of 16% that year.

Is early decision an easy decision?

Before you decide where you stand regarding Early Action vs Early Decision, stop and think. When applying to an Early Decision deadline, keep in mind that you are entering an extremely competitive candidate pool. Although Early Decision colleges have a higher early acceptance rate, applicants must craft a highly competitive application to be considered. At the end of the day, an acceptance rate can only tell you so much.

In general, the answer to “Does Early Decision increase chances?” is yes, but getting in requires a lot of work. You shouldn’t apply to Early Decision colleges just because you think it will help you get in. Instead, applicants should choose Early Decision colleges because they genuinely consider them to be their dream schools. They should be willing and able to craft a standout application and be ready to commit if accepted. 

Thinking about Early Action vs Early Decision and choosing college application deadlines can be overwhelming. Consider seeking personalized college application guidance in order to create a college plan that works for you.

The Difference between Early Action and Early Decision

early action vs early decision

Now let’s talk about the difference between two early college application deadlines: Early Action vs Early Decision. As stated by Brian Poznanski, a former BU admissions officer,

“The big piece of Early Action that distinguishes it from other early application deadline[s] is that there’s no commitment. So, you’re applying early, you’re finding out early, and you still have until May 1st, the national deposit deadline, to make your enrollment decision.”

Brian Poznanski

While Early Action programs provide students flexibility, Early Decision programs can help boost a school’s prestige. Colleges care about their yield rates or the percentage of students who accept an offer of admission. This is why Early Decision admissions plans often provide a larger boost in students’ admissions odds. By admitting more students in the ED cycle, Early Decision colleges can boost their yield rates, which can ultimately increase their rankings.

So, why do schools choose to offer Early Action programs instead of Early Decision? By including Restricted Early Action or Single Choice Early Action programs, schools like Harvard and Yale can make the early cycle more financially accessible to students who need to compare aid packages. And, they can still see how passionate and prepared a student is to attend that specific university.

Applying to Early Action colleges benefits students for whom financial aid is a big factor. It is also a good choice for those students who aren’t set on one particular college. As our CollegeAdvisor panelists put it in our Finish Strong: Early Decision Deadlines webinar, “The pros of [applying Early Action]  is that you have the opportunity to apply to lots of different schools and ultimately compare the financial aid packages from them.”

Below are important differences you need to know when deciding between Early Action deadlines and Early Decision deadlines.

Early Action vs Early Decision Comparison Table

Admissions PlanIs the decision binding?Can you apply to multiple schools?When will you receive a decision?Can you apply Regular Decision elsewhere?
Early DecisionYesNo (however, some Early Decision colleges allow you to apply to other schools’ non-binding admissions plans)Mid-DecemberYes (but you must withdraw any other applications if accepted ED)
Early ActionNoYes (however, there are limitations, i.e. Single-Choice/Restrictive Early Action colleges)Mid-December – JanuaryYes

Typically, schools have either an Early Action deadline or Early Decision deadline(s). For instance, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford do not have Early Decision cycles—instead, they use a Single Choice EA policy. 

On the other hand, many Early Decision colleges actually have two Early Decision deadlines. For example, students interested in attending New York University can apply to the NYU Early Decision I or NYU Early Decision II deadline.

When are Early Action and Early Decision deadlines?

early action vs early decision

While there are many differences between Early Action vs Early Decision, they typically have similar timelines. Typically, a school’s Early Action deadline or Early Decision deadline will fall at the beginning of November. This is nearly two months earlier than any typical Regular Decision deadline.

To give you a better picture of Early Action vs Early Decision vs Regular Decision timelines, let’s take a look at the application deadlines at some of the nation’s top universities.

College Application Deadlines at Top Universities

When researching college application deadlines, you’ll find almost all top universities are either Early Decision colleges or Early Action colleges. (In UChicago’s case–they’re both!) Even if these Early Action and Early Decision colleges aren’t on your final college list, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with common application deadlines, as most schools have very similar application timelines.

Here are the ED, EA, and RD college application deadlines for U.S. News’ Top 20 Best National Universities. Please note that Early Action deadlines notated with an asterisk (*) are Single-Choice/Restricted EA.

Application Deadlines for Top Colleges

College or UniversityEarly Decision DeadlineEarly Action DeadlineRegular Decision Deadline
Princeton UniversityNovember 1*January 1
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyNovember 1January 4
Harvard UniversityNovember 1*January 1
Stanford UniversityNovember 1*January 5
Yale UniversityNovember 1*January 2
University of PennsylvaniaNovember 1January 5
California Institute of TechnologyNovember 1*January 3
Duke UniversityNovember 1January 2
Brown UniversityNovember 1January 3
Johns Hopkins UniversityNovember 1 (ED I)
January 2 (ED II)
January 2
Northwestern UniversityNovember 1January 3
Columbia UniversityNovember 1January 1
Cornell UniversityNovember 1January 2
University of ChicagoNovember 1 (ED I)
January 2 (ED II)
November 1January 2
University of California, BerkeleyNovember 30
University of California, Los AngelesNovember 30
Rice UniversityNovember 1January 4
Dartmouth CollegeNovember 1January 2
Vanderbilt UniversityNovember 1 (ED I)
January 1 (ED II)
January 1

As you can see, most schools that fall into either Early Decision colleges or Early Action colleges will have a November 1 deadline. Regular Decision and Early Decision II deadlines are typically in early January. Additionally, the Ivy League schools issued a joint statement to establish common deadlines among themselves. Although this agreement only includes the Ivies, most deadlines follow similar timelines.

While some schools have the same deadline for their ED II and RD admissions plans, this isn’t always the case. For example, the deadline for NYU Early Decision II is January 1, while the deadline for NYU Regular Decision is January 5. Always be sure to double-check each college or university’s official admissions website for their current college application deadlines.

To explore the difference between early action and early decision timelines, let’s look at both more in-depth.

Typical Early Decision Timeline

Let’s take a look at the Cornell Early Decision program as an example of a typical Early Decision application timeline. Students must submit their Cornell Early Decision application by November 1 and any supporting materials by November 15. Cornell Early Decision admissions decisions are then released by mid-December.

If you apply early via the Common Application platform,  as you would at Cornell, you’ll be asked to submit an Early Decision Agreement as part of your application. This confirms you will withdraw all applications to other schools should you be accepted. Therefore, if you are admitted, you’ll need to withdraw any active applications and submit an enrollment deposit to Cornell by early January.

If deferred, your application will be reconsidered in the Regular Decision process. Students can then expect to receive an admissions decision by early April and must submit an enrollment deposit by May 2 if they choose to enroll.

Typical Early Action Timeline

Now, let’s look at Princeton as an example of the typical Early Action timeline. Students applying to Princeton Restrictive Early Action must submit their application by November 1 and their financial aid application by November 9. Decisions are released in mid-December.

As with Early Decision, students may be admitted, denied, or deferred. If deferred, their application will be evaluated again in the Regular Decision process. No matter if students are admitted right away or deferred then admitted, accepted students have until May 1 to make their admissions decisions.

Unconventional Early Timelines

While these are the typical timelines you’ll encounter whether you are applying EA or ED, as former admissions officer Joanne Pluff states, “There is always an exception to the rule.” In one of our previous webinars on Early Action vs Early Decision, she highlights two schools that follow unusual timelines: Auburn University and Florida State.

Auburn University has its first Early Action deadline as early as September 15. This is because they have four rounds within their Early Action cycle with deadlines in September, October, November, and December. Their Regular Decision deadline is also later than typical RD deadlines, falling on February 1.

Early Action is only available for in-state applicants to Florida State University. Their materials are due by October 15, however, their admissions decisions are still released in mid-December. Likewise, FSU’s Regular Decision deadline is earlier than typical RD deadlines, falling on December 1.

When to Start Working on Applications

Although there are nuances among the timelines of different universities, the application process for Early Action vs Early Decision is essentially the same. Regardless of the exact type of admissions plan, students need to have all of their materials prepped well ahead of their application deadlines. Planning ahead is crucial, whether you are working towards an Early Decision or Early Action deadline.

For most students, especially if you are using the Common Application, the general application itself isn’t very time-consuming. The elements of your application you need to budget plenty of time for are your essays, recommendations, and standardized tests. When considering Early Action vs Early decision, this is going to be the case no matter which deadline you opt for. 

Since you will need to juggle coursework and applications simultaneously, we suggest starting the process in early August. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to write your Common Application personal statement and school-specific supplemental essays. And, you’ll allow your recommenders ample time to submit their recommendations.

Can you apply Early Action to multiple schools?

In most cases, yes, you can apply Early Action to multiple schools. However, this is not the case at Early Action colleges that have Single-Choice Early Action policies. These SCEA policies (used by schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) mean that students cannot apply early to another school. For instance, you could not apply Early Action to both Harvard and Yale. 

However, even REA schools make exceptions. For example, Yale allows their SCEA applicants to apply to an early admissions program if it is:

  • A non-binding rolling admissions program
  • A non-binding early program at a public institution
  • An Early Decision or Early Action program that notifies applicants after January 1
  • At an institution outside the United States

Harvard has a similar exception stating that students may not apply Early Action to another private school. However, REA applicants may apply Early Action to any public university or to universities outside the U.S. 

As former admissions officer Amber Lewis puts it, “Figuring out which application programs do and don’t harmonize can be kind of like a Sudoku puzzle.” So be sure to follow her advice: “It’s really important to look specifically into what the school says on their website.”

Examining some top schools 

By this point, we hope you have a better sense of the difference between early action and early decision programs. Now, let’s take a closer look at some top Early Decision and Early Action colleges and which admissions plans they offer. We’ll go over important deadlines and provide some college application guidance for students interested in applying to Stanford, MIT, and Boston University. After we review each school’s Early Action vs Early Decision programs, we’ll give you five tips to consider when deciding how to approach your college application deadlines.

Stanford Early Action

early action vs early decision

Students can apply to Stanford by their Regular Decision or Early Action deadline. If you’re considering applying to Stanford Early Action, note that Stanford’s EA deadline is Single-Choice/Restrictive Early Action. Here are the Regular Decision and Restrictive Early Action deadlines for Stanford:

  • Restrictive Early Action
    • Application Deadline: November 1
    • Admissions Decision Released: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision
    • Application Deadline: January 5
    • Admissions Decision Released: Early April

Stanford’s Early Action plan is similar to those of other Early Action colleges. If you choose to apply to Stanford Early Action, you cannot apply to any other school’s early admissions plan (EA, REA, ED, etc.). However, there are some exceptions for certain colleges/universities as long as their admissions plan is non-binding. Be sure to double-check Stanford’s exceptions if you are interested in applying early to another program.

Restrictive Early Action is a good option for students who consider Stanford a top choice and are able to complete their application by the November deadline. When decisions come out in mid-December, students will be offered admission, deferred to Regular Decision, or not be offered admission. Remember, Restrictive Early Action is a non-binding admissions plan, so you don’t have to accept Stanford’s offer of admission. If you are not offered admission, you cannot reapply in the RD cycle.

MIT Early Action

early action vs early decision

MIT offers applicants two admissions plans: MIT Early Action and Regular Decision. Unlike Single-Choice Early Action colleges like Harvard or Stanford, MIT Early Action is not restrictive. So, you can apply early elsewhere as well. The Early Action deadline is the same as Stanford’s, and the Regular Decision deadline is just a day earlier:

  • Early Action
    • Application Deadline: November 1
    • Admissions Decision Released: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision
    • Application Deadline: January 4
    • Admissions Decision Released: Mid-March

You’ll note MIT’s RD admissions decisions are announced earlier than Stanford’s. That’s because MIT typically chooses to release their decisions on Pi Day, March 14! 

On MIT’s Admissions website, you’ll find some school-specific college application guidance. MIT specifically states the only difference between their EA and RD admissions plans is the dates applications are due. So if you’re wondering, “Does Early Action increase chances at MIT?”, the answer is: not really. The difference between the EA and RD MIT acceptance rates is minimal. Therefore, the main benefit of applying early is getting your admissions decision earlier.

Boston University Early Action

early action vs early decision

Unlike Stanford and MIT, there is no Boston University Early Action admissions plan. However, BU offers two Early Decision admissions plans in addition to their Regular Decision admissions plan. Remember, the main difference between Early Action vs Early Decision is that ED is binding. Since there is no Boston University Early Action plan, only Early Decision, you should only apply early if BU is absolutely your top choice.

The first Early Decision deadline is the same as MIT’s Early Action deadline and the ED II and RD deadlines are the same as MIT RD deadline:

  • Early Decision I
    • Application Deadline: November 1
    • Admissions Decision Released: Mid-December
  • Early Decision II
    • Application Deadline: January 4
    • Admissions Decision Released: Mid-February
  • Regular Decision
    • Application Deadline: January 4
    • Admissions Decision Released: Late March

If you’re deciding between ED and RD, you might be wondering, “Does early decision increase chances at BU?”. If you read our guide to How to Get Into Boston University, you’ll see that the acceptance rate for ED is more than double the acceptance rate for RD. So, if you’re confident about attending BU, applying by the first or second Early Decision deadline can help improve your odds of admission (provided you submit a stellar application!).

You should decide your early admissions plan based on how prepared you are by the Early Decision deadline. If you have strong grades from your previous courses and ample time to craft your application, submitting by the ED I deadline will get you an admissions decision sooner. However, if you need more time to explore BU, get grades back from your first-semester senior year courses, and write your BU supplemental essay, opt for Early Decision II.

BU states they give careful consideration to both application groups, so choose the Early Decision deadline that fits your needs. Whether you applied to BU Early Decision I or Early Decision II, you’ll need to withdraw any other applications once you’ve been notified of your acceptance.

How to choose the best application deadline for you

As you can see, you’ll encounter many different college application deadlines during the application process. Determining your application deadlines will depend on your college list and the admissions plans each school offers–and, of course, how prepared you feel to submit strong and complete applications.

Here are five tips to help you decide which college application deadlines work best for you:

Tips to Help You Decide the Best College Application Deadline

early action vs early decision

1. Self-reflect before choosing a deadline

Assess how prepared you are to submit your best application earlier. Regardless of whether you’re choosing between Early Action vs Early Decision colleges, you’re better off submitting a stronger RD application than a less thought-out application to an early admissions cycle.

2. Research schools

Does your top-choice school offer EA or ED? What are the acceptance rates for each option? Typically, you’ll see much higher acceptance rates at Early Decision colleges, but do some research for every school you are considering.

3. Consider financial aid options

Understand the financial aid implications. Remember that ED might limit your ability to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools. So, if financial aid is a critical component of making college affordable for you and your family, keep that in mind when deciding between Early Action vs Early Decision.

4. Consider flexibility

Consider how certain you are about your top-choice school. If you’re 100% certain about a school, ED can show that commitment. If you value flexibility in your decision, focus your research on Early Action colleges. 

5. Create a backup plan

Even if deciding between Early Action vs Early Decision, there are no guarantees when it comes to early admissions. You should still plan ahead for which schools you want to apply Regular Decision, and start working on those applications well in advance of the RD deadlines in the event you are denied or deferred.

Deciding whether to apply Early Action vs Early Decision ultimately comes down to how sure you feel about attending a specific school and how ready you feel to submit your application by November.

Early Action vs Early Decision – Final takeaways

In this guide to Early Action vs Early Decision, we’ve covered a lot. Here are condensed answers to some of the many questions we’ve answered about the differences and benefits between Early Action vs Early Decision:

Quick Answers to Early Admission Questions

What is the difference between Early Action and Early Decision?

The main difference between Early Action vs Early Decision is EA is non-binding whereas ED is binding. 

Can you apply Early Action to multiple schools?

Yes – unless that school is Restrictive or Single-Choice Early Action.

Does Early Action increase chances?

Generally speaking, EA acceptance rates are higher than RD acceptance rates, though this difference is not always significant.

Does Early Decision increase chances?

Just like EA, ED acceptance rates are generally higher than RD acceptance rates, especially because schools want to enhance their yield rate.

There are plenty of benefits and pitfalls to applying Early Action vs Early Decision. If you choose to apply early, especially to a binding Early Decision admissions program, be sure to make an informed choice. Do your research, and make sure you completely understand the details of a school’s early admissions program before applying.

Even if you’re still weighing the options between Early Action vs Early Decision, remember that applying early requires preparation. Starting your applications early is key to success. Keep in mind that the Common App typically opens on August 1st, and it’s never too early to start working on your application materials.

As you’re deciding between Early Action vs Early Decision, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. If you have any questions about a school’s early admissions program, reach out to their college admissions office with questions. And take a look at our countless webinars dedicated to demystifying various admissions plans and helping you decide which one is right for you.

If you’re looking for more personalized college application guidance, CollegeAdvisor is here to help. Our team of advisors can help you navigate the choice of Early Action vs Early Decision and keep you on track to meet your early and regular decision deadlines. We’ll be with you for every step of the process: comparing colleges, getting your college acceptance letter, and finally heading off to your dream school.

early action vs early decision

This article was written by Sarah Kaminski and Stefanie Tedards. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.