Early Action vs Early Decision | Everything You Need to Know

Abigail Eun
Abigail Eun

Abigail Eun is a freelance writer and personal finance expert. Through diligent research and continuous learning, she has honed her knowledge in budgeting, saving, investing, and debt management. Abigail is passionate about helping people get their finances in order. She believes that everyone should have access to the information they need to make sound financial decisions. Her goal is to provide clear and concise information that is easy to understand.

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Emma Östlund
Emma Östlund

Emma Östlund works as a business operations analyst at Sparrow. Emma studied Psychology, Computer Science, and Markets & Management at Duke University. With a well-rounded background in business and analytics, Emma strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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Camden Ford
Camden Ford

Camden leads Sparrow’s business operations – everything from product management to business analytics. After graduating Cum Laude from Duke University where he studied Civil Engineering, Camden worked as a Consultant for A.T. Kearney where he worked in their Strategic Operations practice. With a strong background in analytics, Camden strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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June 28, 2023

As a student applying to college, you should be aware of the options that you have for applying, such as Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision. Knowing how you want to apply to college can save you a lot of time and assure that you are making the best decision for yourself. Although you may be wondering, what’s the difference between early action vs early decision?

Early Action and Early Decision are commonly confused methods of applying to college because of the similarities in the programs. However, there are key differences between Early Action and Early Decision that every student applying to college should know. 

Early Action vs Early Decision: What’s the Difference?

For both Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED), you apply to the college of your choice by an earlier deadline and, in turn, find out if you were accepted, rejected, or waitlisted earlier. 

The key difference between applying Early Action vs Early Decision is that Early Decision is a binding decision, meaning you must attend the school if you are accepted and withdraw any other submitted applications. Early Action, on the other hand, is a non-binding decision. 

>> MORE: How to pay for college: compare student loan rates

Early Action

As outlined above, applying Early Action means that you submit your college application to the school of your choice at an earlier deadline and receive your admissions results sooner. You can apply Early Action to as many schools as you want, as long as the schools offer Early Action.

Early Action is a non-binding agreement, meaning that you are not obligated to accept the admission offers of the schools that you get into via Early Action.

Pros of Early ActionCons of Early Action
You hear back whether or not you were accepted into schools sooner, meaning you may be able to end the college application process sooner. Any new test scores, awards, honors, extracurricular activities, etc. will not be included in your application after submission. 
It is a non-binding decision. Your chances of being accepted through Early Action are smaller than being accepted through Early Decision. This is because ED demonstrates serious commitment to the school and protects the school’s yield rate (amount of students who accept their admissions offer) because the decision is binding. Furthermore, ED applicants generally are more competitive applicants in terms of test scores, GPA, and extracurricular activities. 
Your application can be deferred if you are not accepted through Early Action. This means that even if you apply through Early Action, your application will be reconsidered along with the Regular Decision application pool.
You can see your financial aid packages earlier and negotiate with more time.

Early Action is offered by a wide variety of schools. Here are a few popular schools that offer it:

  • Northeastern University
  • Princeton University (single-choice Early Action, meaning that you cannot apply early to any other school though the decision is non-binding)
  • Georgetown University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

>> MORE: Compare student loan rates to help you pay for college

Early Decision

Early Decision is a binding agreement, meaning that if you are accepted into the school you applied to ED, you are obligated to attend the school and withdraw any other applications. Just like Early Action, you apply Early Decision in an earlier timeframe and receive your acceptance decisions sooner.

You may only apply Early Decision to one school

Pros of Early DecisionCons of Early Decision
Your chances of acceptance are significantly higher than if you apply Early Action or Regular Decision, especially for selective universities.You are obligated to enroll in the school.
If accepted, you are finished with the college application process earlier and already know what school you are attending. You may be missing out on more competitive financial aid packages.
Your application can be deferred, or pushed to the Regular Decision applicant pool, giving you another chance at admission. 
If accepted, you receive your financial aid package sooner and have more time to negotiate. 

Early Decision is offered at many schools including, but not limited to:

  • Columbia University
  • Washington University
  • Boston University
  • Brown University
  • Cornell University

Things to Ask Yourself When Applying Early Decision

Again, applying Early Decision is binding, so it’s important to think over the decision thoroughly before moving forward. Before applying Early Decision, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the school offer the option to apply Early Decision?
  • Is this school your top, dream school that you would attend even if you were accepted anywhere else?
  • Are you eligible to receive an affordable financial aid package? Does the school offer scholarships that can help you defray the cost of tuition?
  • Is the location of this school somewhere you can spend the next four years of your life?
  • Have you thoroughly researched this school in terms of geography, social scene, academics, extracurriculars, etc.?

>> MORE: The best college scholarship sites you need to know about

Early Action vs Early Decision: Which is Better?

Between Early Action vs Early Decision, there is no option that is necessarily “better,” but there may be an option that is more suitable for you. Early Action is more suited for students who don’t have a definite “dream school” in mind and want to keep their options open. Early Decision is for students who have a dream school that they would like to attend, without any reservations or hesitations. 

However, before you decide between applying Early Action and Early Decision, you’ll want to assess whether or not applying early is a strategic, feasible option for you.

>> MORE: How to pay for college: financial aid options

Things to Consider When Applying Early

If you want to apply early, you’ll want to have the following things:

  • Sufficient time to write a killer application that highlights the best qualities about yourself through your Personal Statement essay, school-specific essays, extracurricular activities, etc. If the Early Action/Decision deadline seems too soon for you to put together a competitive application, consider applying Regular Decision.
  • Test Scores/GPA that match or exceed the average stats of the school that you want to apply early for. You’ll want to be a competitive applicant if you are applying early, particularly for Early Decision. If you are taking the SAT/ACT after the deadline for Early Action/Decision or want to boost your GPA before submitting your transcript, consider applying Regular Decision.

I Want to Apply Early to College. What Do I Do Next?

Now that you’ve determined whether or not you want to apply early to college, it’s time to decide whether or not you should apply Early Action vs Early Decision for the colleges on your college list.

You should only apply Early Decision to a school you are 100% confident of being happy with attending. If there is no school that you feel this way about, apply Early Action. Keep in mind that you can apply Early Action and Early Decision – however, if you are accepted into the school that you applied Early Decision for, any other acceptances will have to be rejected.

>> MORE: What are the different types of financial aid to pay for college?

Closing Thoughts From the Nest

We hope that this article has helped you learn the difference between Early Action vs Early Decision and guided your decisions when applying to college.

As general advice, be sure to keep track of every college application deadline that you have and whether you are applying early or on the regular timeline. Staying organized and on top of your work is the key to success!

Once you’ve applied, you should start thinking about how to pay for college. To get the process started, compare student loan rates with Sparrow today. By completing the Sparrow application, you’ll be able to see which student loans you qualify for and at what rates. Then, you can compare your loan options side-by-side to be sure you’re picking the best one.

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