By: Nicole at University Language On: October 30, 2009 In: Applying to College Comments: 0

Early action. Early decision. Single choice. What does it all mean?

Many colleges in the US offer early application programs that send you a decision around late December, instead of in April. But these early programs, like early decision and early action, can differ in some big ways.

So how do you know if an early application program is right for you?

When to Apply Early Decision

If you apply to a US college with an early decision program, the results are binding. That means if you get accepted to a school early decision, you’re required to go there.

You can only apply to one college early decision, and you must withdraw your applications to other colleges if you’re accepted.  This might limit your options, especially if you want to compare financial aid packages.

Sometimes a higher percentage of early decision applicants get in to selective schools than are accepted during the regular round. This is partly because schools want to increase the number of students that will definitely accept their offer of admission.

This sounds like a great way to get accepted, but early decision students can be more competitive than the regular decision pool, so your chances aren’t always better.

In the end, remember to apply early decision only if you’re confident the school is the one for you.

When to Apply Early Action

Applying early action also lets you get a decision in December, but unlike early decision it’s non-binding. That means that even if you’re accepted to a school early action, you don’t have to go there.
There are two types of early action: single choice and non-restrictive. What does this mean for you?

1) Early Action Single Choice

Applying early action single choice allows you to apply to as many schools as you want in the regular admissions round, but to only one school early – no other early decision or early action applications allowed.

If you have a favorite US school, but would still like to apply to other colleges, early action single choice can help. It shows your favorite school that you’re very interested but keeps your options open – especially if you want to compare financial aid from other colleges.

2) Non-Restrictive Early Action

Colleges with non-restrictive early action allow you to apply to as many schools as you want, any time you want. This means you can apply to several schools with early action policies at the same time.

If you’re not quite sure what school is right for you, but you still want to get some news early, consider applying early action to a few schools with non-restrictive programs. Hearing back from them can give you an idea of what colleges to consider as safety, match, and reach schools during the regular decision round.

When to Apply Regular Decision

Applying early isn’t for everyone – sometimes applying regular decision is the best bet.

If you want to show your first semester senior year grades on your transcript or need more time to take the SATs and ACTs, consider waiting for the regular round.

Recently, some schools – including Harvard and Princeton – ended their early application programs. Always be sure to check in advance with each school before sending your application!

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