Monday, June 23, 2014

Should You Apply for Early Decision or Early Action?

Admit Data: Make Informed Application Decisions
By Alejandro Ortiz

The college application process can be a stressful time for many aspiring college applicants. In addition, there is the burden and cost of multiple applications, since each school may have distinct requirements. However, if you know for sure what your first choice school is, it may not be necessary to apply beyond that school.

Most international students are not aware that almost every college and university in the U.S. has an “Early Decision” or “Early Action” program. This is a unique admissions process in the U.S. where you are able to apply before the regular admissions cycle. Early admissions programs tend to admit a higher percentage of students, but can also put a lot of pressure on a student by committing the student to only one college.

Difference between Early Decision and Early Action

Early decision (ED) plans are binding — if accepted, students must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding, i.e., you can apply to other colleges early — you receive an early response to your application but do not have to commit until the regular decision date of May 1. Single-choice Early Action is another option offered by many higher education institutions. This plan is similar to other Early Action plans; you may not apply early (either ED or EA) to any other school, but can still apply for regular admission to other schools and are not required to give a final answer until the regular decision deadline.

Early Decision
Early Action
Apply early (usually by November)
Apply early
Receive an admission decision (usually by December)
Receive an admission decision (usually in Jan - Feb)
Agree to attend the college (binding)
Consider acceptance offer; do not have to commit
Apply to only one college early decision
Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans
Withdraw all other applications if accepted
Give the college a decision no later than May 1

Trends of Early Admissions Programs (Ivy League Schools Data)

The most attractive aspect of early admissions programs is that colleges and universities tend to admit a significantly higher percentage of students than they do during the regular admissions cycle. According to The Harvard Crimson, Harvard accepted over 21 percent of its early applicants, its highest early action acceptance rate, and international students comprised 11.5% of the total applicant pool for the 2018 class. Harvard’s international early applicant pool also increased from 66 to 83 international students. Dartmouth College extended offers of admission to 28 percent of its early applicants for the 2018 class, of which 8.8% were international students. Brown University accepted almost 20 percent of early applicants to its 2018 class; most international students in this pool came from China, India, Canada, the U.K., and Korea. Numbers of early applicants are also steadily increasing, for example Columbia University’s early applicant pool to its 2018 class increased to a record high of 3,298 students. Therefore, if attending an Ivy League school is your dream and you feel confident, it may be a great option to apply early for an increased chance of being admitted.

Fig 1: enrollment rates by early admissions at Ivy League schools (Classes of 2007 – 2018)


Pros and Cons of Early Admissions Programs 

The greatest benefit of early admission application is likely that your chances of being admitted are considerably higher than during the regular application process. An additional benefit is that students admitted early would then be free from the stress and pressure of continuing the application process, and could then invest the rest of that time searching for further financial opportunities, scholarships, fellowships or extracurricular activities. 

Early application, however, does come with some disadvantages. Early application commits the student to only one college, and may pressure a student to make a life-lasting decision before the student has explored all their options. Early admission can also reduce financial aid opportunities because students who apply under ED receive offers of admission and financial aid simultaneously and will not be able to compare financial aid offers from other colleges. Early application also crunches students’ time for other applications. Since most colleges do not notify ED and EA applicants of admission until December this means that if a student is rejected by the college, there are only few weeks left to send in other applications. 

So what does this all mean for you? 

Deciding where to go to college is a big decision. Early application options are great for you if you know where you want to attend or want to apply to your dream school with less competition. However, you should not feel pressured to apply early if you are not prepared. WES Student Advisor (WESSA) has prepared the following guide that will help applicants to identify how well prepared they are regarding the application process. Under early decision you need to be 100% sure that the college of your choice is truly the place where you want to spend the next 4 years of your life. 


Alejandro Ortiz is currently a Research Associate at World Education Services in New York. He holds a Master’s in Social Impact and Policy Analysis from New York University and a BA in Political Science from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico.

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