Early Action Application Guide

The concept of Early Decision is familiar to most applicants, often viewed as a strategic move in the admissions process. In this arrangement, applicants relinquish their freedom to apply to multiple institutions, while colleges may offer slightly better odds to borderline candidates. On the other hand, Early Action, a less commonly explored option, presents a more nuanced approach. Unlike Early Decision, it doesn’t entail any sacrifice from either party. Instead, it offers a mutual advantage, making it a strategy worth considering. While it may not be as overt as Early Decision, opting for Early Action could prove to be the ideal tactic for gaining an edge in securing admission to your dream school.

Also read What to do After Applying to College Early Decision or Early Action

Early Action Timeline: What You Need to Know

For prospective college students, the Early Action timeline presents a crucial window of opportunity with deadlines usually falling around November 1st or November 15th. This means applicants must swiftly gather their application materials and take stock of their academic achievements. While some may still be in the process of proving themselves academically during their senior year, Early Action programs offer the chance for earlier decision notifications, typically by mid-December or January. This stands in stark contrast to the regular decision cycle, which often concludes in early April. The prospect of receiving an acceptance before the holiday break can bring a sense of relief and excitement, alleviating the stress of the entire senior year, especially if one of your preferred schools has already extended an offer for the upcoming fall semester.

Choosing Between Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Early Action

When it comes to Early Action, understanding whether your prospective institutions fall under restrictive or non-restrictive categories is crucial. In the realm of restrictive Early Action plans, one common type is known as “Single-Choice Early Action” (SCEA). This means that you can only apply early to one specific school, alongside any other public colleges or universities. Examples of universities with SCEA or REA (Restrictive Early Action) policies include prestigious institutions like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. Georgetown also falls into this category, allowing students to apply Early Action to other colleges but prohibiting them from submitting a binding Early Decision application elsewhere.

On the other hand, Non-Restrictive Early Action grants you the freedom to apply to as many schools as you wish, similar to the regular application cycle. While the majority of colleges operate under this policy, it’s always prudent to review the fine print before finalizing your application choices.

What’s the College’s Incentive?

When it comes to Early Decision (ED), the college’s benefit is clear-cut—the institution secures a guaranteed member of their freshman class, alleviating some concerns about their yield rate in the spring. However, with Early Action (EA), admitted applicants are not bound to attend. Nevertheless, data indicates that those admitted through non-binding EA often display a higher level of commitment to the university and are more inclined to enroll compared to candidates admitted in the regular round, who may be simultaneously applying to multiple other schools. While EA doesn’t offer the institution the same level of assurance as ED, it does provide a slight advantage in attracting qualified, enthusiastic applicants who are likely to enroll, thus aiding the college in filling their freshman class.

Also see Three Considerations before applying Early Decision

What’s in it for the Applicant?

It’s widely acknowledged that applying Early Decision can significantly enhance a student’s chances of admission. Even after factoring in athletes and legacies, who often benefit from early-round policies, there remains a substantial difference at many schools between the acceptance rates for Early Decision (ED) and Regular Decision (RD) cycles. For instance, at American University, 85% of applicants are admitted ED compared to 33% RD, while Middlebury boasts a 45% ED acceptance rate versus 13% RD, and Washington and Lee sees a 43% ED acceptance rate compared to 16% RD.

Although Early Action (EA) rates don’t universally surpass those of RD as with ED rates, they typically offer more favorable odds than during the regular round. At some highly selective schools, applicants can gain a significant advantage. For example, UNC Chapel Hill admits 28% of EA applicants compared to just 12% via regular decision, while Notre Dame and Colorado College see EA admit rates more than double those of RD. While the edge may be negligible at institutions like Babson, MIT, and UVA, other large research institutions such as the University of Miami and Ohio State University boast significantly higher acceptance rates in the non-binding early round than in the spring.

But increased admissions odds aren’t the only allure of Early Action. There’s also the potential for a financial advantage over your competition. While schools don’t typically have different official financial aid policies for EA versus RD, the reality is that more financial aid funds are available to schools in the fall than by the regular April deadline. Consequently, scholarship offers may be more generous to EA applicants than those applying during the regular cycle. Additionally, unlike with Early Decision, EA applicants have the flexibility to apply to any other school if the offer of aid is unsatisfactory. This dynamic provides schools with an incentive to make more competitive offers to desirable applicants.


The decision to pursue Early Decision or Early Action hinges on a variety of factors, both for the applicant and the college. For students, Early Action offers the potential for increased admissions odds and the opportunity to receive more generous financial aid packages, while still retaining the flexibility to explore other options. Meanwhile, colleges benefit from securing committed, enthusiastic applicants who are more likely to enroll, thereby shaping a diverse and engaged freshman class. Ultimately, whether you opt for Early Decision, Early Action, or the Regular Decision cycle, it’s essential to weigh your options carefully and consider how each aligns with your academic and personal goals.