Disclaimer – we’re not experts. Everything in this series will be from our personal experiences and points of view, so take it with a grain of salt.
When college application season starts, you may start hearing people talk about where they’re applying “early.” This may or may not be for you, but the goal is for you to know by the end of this post. So let’s start with a couple of definitions…
- Rolling Admissions – As soon as applications open, people can start applying. The earlier you apply, the earlier you get your decision. Decisions aren’t released all at once like other schools – they’re released periodically. This usually applies to state schools, like UT. We’d recommend finishing this application before you start on your reach schools.
- Make sure to check for deadlines for honors programs within these colleges. They will be different from the normal admission deadline.
- Check for any priority deadlines as well!
- ex. University of Texas, University of Missouri, Baylor
- Non-Restrictive Early Action – Usually due around November 1st, this is basically a non-binding way for you to apply early to multiple colleges. Non-restrictive means that you can apply to more than one school early (all of the schools you’re applying to need to say this), and early action means that you’re not contractually bound to attend the school if you get in.
- Usually if it’s not marked as Restrictive Early Action, it’s just normal Early Action.
- Restrictive Early Action – This is the same as non-restrictive early action, but you can only apply to one school. Usually, this is the type of early application that most private universities provide.
- ex. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown
- Keep in mind that the restrictions on applying to one school do not apply to public universities. REA means that you may not apply to any other private universities’ early program, but you CAN apply to colleges outside of the US, non-binding rolling admissions, and non-binding public universities.
- Restrictive Early Decision – The same thing as restrictive early action in that you can only apply to one school, but if you get in early you legally have to attend.
- ex. Columbia, Duke
Tip: Colleges usually have a mix of these type of options. Some will offer Early Action or Early Decision alongside regular decision. Others will let you choose between Early Action and Early Decision. And then some will offer different rounds of Early Action/Decision…the list goes on.
Check the website, research each school, and don’t be afraid to call their undergraduate admission office for more information.
Now, let’s focus in on Restrictive Early Action and Restrictive Early Decision, which we’ll just reference as EA and ED respectively from this point on.
Let’s start with Early Decision. Fewer people go this route, largely because it means that you’re legally bound to the decision if the college decides to admit you. Some argue that because of this, you won’t get as great of a financial aid package because the college knows you have to attend (whether this is true or not is kind of up in the air). However, there are some people who are suited for ED. If you are 100% sure that you want to go to that school compared to any other school that could possibly accept you, and want a leg up in getting in, then ED is for you. Acceptance rates are higher for ED (even higher than EA), but the pool is a lot more competitive.
Tip: Don’t apply ED to a certain school just because you’re more likely to get in, especially if it’s not your top choice. If you get accepted, you have to go, and you can’t apply anywhere else (and rescind those applications). Only do it if you’re deadset on that school.
Next up is Early Action. Personally, we both applied Restrictive EA to Yale. More people will take this route, for two reasons:
- It demonstrates interest in the school, and lets them know that you’re their first choice. While we don’t want to say that it makes it more likely that you’ll get in, some schools value interest (this interest also needs to be reflected in your essays, such as the “Why *insert school here*” supplements).
- It’s nice to get in early so that you know come December where you’ll be going to school, and takes some stress off for the rest of your senior year. Even if you don’t get in, you’ll be able to test the waters and turn in even better applications for Regular Decision.
Tip: Schools are all different when it comes to EA/ED. Stanford, for instance, rarely defers people. Most early applicants there are rejected if they don’t get in early. Most other Ivies, like Harvard and Yale, defer the majority of their applicants. They usually don’t reject until regular round. Factor those into your decision on where you want to apply early.
Obviously we’d say use your EA on your top choice school. However, some people will EA a different school so that they can have more time to work on their top school, while others will strategically choose a school that is less like Stanford and is more likely to either accept or defer applicants rather than reject them. Choose what’s right for you.
How do you know if EA is right for you?
- You have thoroughly researched the college you’re applying to.
- You have your strongest application ready (EA/ED pools are always more competitive than RD pools). If you don’t feel like you have your strongest application ready for your dream school, hold off on your application.
- You have built a strong resume before senior year and do not require more time to improve on your extracurriculars or academics (EA/ED means applying with grades from the end of junior year, and usually your junior year accomplishments as well). While you can send updates after you finish your application, it’s better to have it all done before you submit.
Tip: While applying to your EA/ED school, make sure that you’re keeping up with your regular decision applications as well. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Put them in separate little parts of the carton!
Make sure that whether you apply EA or ED, that you’re putting your absolute best foot forward. If you don’t get in early, there are two routes – either you’re deferred and considered in the regular decision round, or you’re rejected. If you’re deferred, you can’t change your original application – the one you submitted for early is the one that’s considered. If you’re rejected, then you may wonder if a better application could’ve boosted your chances. Be confident in yourself and trust your gut, but make sure you’ve done your best work for an early application.
If the deadline starts coming up and you feel like your application isn’t ready, don’t feel pressured to submit early just because you planned to. You’re only doing this once, so do your best!
Kat + Daniel