How Does Applying Early Decision or Early Action Affect Your Application?
Both Early Decision and Early Action are becoming increasingly popular options for applicants, for good reason. At many colleges, as many as a third or more of the entering class may have been admitted under one or the other of these programs, with admission rates that may be two to three times higher than the regular decision admission rate. Here are some ways in which each of these options could affect you:
Early Decision (ED) is a binding commitment to attend the college. This tells the college that you are serious about them and will generally improve your chances of getting in, which, for students who are slightly below the norm for regular decision, can be a tremendous advantage. Colleges are willing to overlook slightly lower grades or scores in favor of meeting their yield target. In the world of college admissions, yield is far more important than admit rates because this determines whether they have met their enrollment goals. (Yield means the number of students who accept the offer of admission.) Even the most selective colleges worry about yield because everyone has competition. Legacies, athletes, and under-represented populations who often also fulfill institutional priorities can particularly benefit under Early Decision.
Early Action (EA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA) is not a binding commitment but can still offer an advantage over regular decision. Once again, applying early is a signal to the college that you have a deep interest in the school. At some places, the admit rate for EA may be as high as for ED. Why? Because the yield of students who are admitted under these plans is higher than for regular admission.
Students who apply EA are often stronger than both ED and regular applicants so this also makes them attractive to colleges. If you are a particularly competitive applicant, EA may be a more strategic option than ED as you will still keep all your options open.
Regardless of which plan you may be considering, one vital component of these plans many people overlook is the issue of financial aid, even if it’s merit rather than need-based, your financial aid offer may not be as competitive or generous as it may be under regular decision, when colleges will be competing with each other to yield students. Some colleges may offer less, others may still “meet full need” but there may be a larger proportion of loans (which must be repaid) to grants/scholarships (which are not repaid). That said, you could appeal the financial aid package, but if it still does not meet your need, it is generally the only basis on which you could break your commitment to attend under ED; however you will lose the offer of admission entirely, and could be too late to apply to many other colleges or their scholarships. For this reason, applying to any early admission plan should be considered carefully if reliance on any form of aid is going to be a factor for you.