Students who want an edge in the competitive college admissions process should consider applying Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED). EA or ED applications can often maximize a student’s chances of being admitted, so, when possible, we recommend taking advantage of early admission plans.

Of the thousands of colleges in the United States, more than 450 offer Early Decision or Early Action plans in addition to Regular Decision (RD). Some even offer all three. The application deadlines for ED and EA typically fall between October 15 and November 15 (but some are even earlier, so pay close attention to deadlines of all the colleges you plan to apply to).

Applying Early = A Higher Chance of Being Accepted

The college advisors at International College Counselors have reviewed the data and see that many colleges admit a large percentage of their incoming class from the early application pool.

Northeastern, for example, admitted close to 39% of their freshman class last year through Early Decision. Boston University and Boston College this year admitted roughly 30 percent of their incoming classes early.

Early Action vs. Early Decision

While the decision to apply early seems like a no-brainer, families need to be aware of the significant difference between Early Decision and Early Action. Early Decision (ED) is binding, while Early Action (EA) is not. “Binding” means the student who applies ED is committed to attend that school if they are accepted. Schools with Early Decision options include Brown, Columbia, Duke, Emory, Rice, Tufts, the University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt, among many. Students admitted through Early Decision must immediately withdraw all other applications and send their enrollment deposit to the ED school.

Early Action is a non-binding application deadline; students apply early and learn their decision early, but there is no commitment to enroll at the EA school. With EA, as with RD, students have until May 1 to decide whether they want to enroll at a school. Students may also apply to more than one school through Early Action.

Restrictive Early Action (REA), another early application deadline, is sometimes referred to as Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA). This non-binding option is offered by Georgetown, Harvard, Notre Dame, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Whether it’s called REA or SCEA, it’s essentially Early Action with a catch. Students who apply REA or SCEA are applying Early Action to only that one school and may not apply ED nor EA elsewhere (with certain exceptions). Note that each REA/SCEA school has different “rules” about applying REA, so be sure to read each website carefully when considering this option.

A number of schools also offer Early Decision II (ED2). Unlike traditional Early Decision programs, ED2 allows students to wait until later in the admissions cycle (January) to apply. It also allows students who have been turned down by their ED1 school to apply ED2 to a different one, should they choose.

The Impact of Applying Early on Students

Students who choose to apply ED1 should submit to a school where they have a solid chance of getting in. We advise students not to “throw away” their ED1 on a school that is unlikely to admit them. (Applying early helps, but it doesn’t work miracles.) If a student is then denied through Early Decision 1, applying for the second round of Early Decision (ED2) at another institution is a good plan, but not nearly as strong a move as applying in the first round of Early Decision. Thus, where a student applies ED1 is most important.

For families seeking financial aid, the Early Decision option is not necessarily a good choice. Students admitted through ED must withdraw all other submitted applications (and not apply to any others). This means that students who are admitted ED will not be able to compare financial aid packages from any other schools.

Most Early Action plans are non-restrictive, and you should apply under these EA plans whenever they are offered.

For help with Early Action and Early Decision strategies, work with an advisor from International College Counselors. Contact us at 1-954-414-9986 or


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