Early Action vs Early Decision: Understanding the Difference

So, you’ve started researching colleges you’re interested in applying to. You’ve done the virtual tour, read about the amazing clubs, and dreamt about having group Spotify sessions with your dorm floor. You’re starting to make your spreadsheet with the college deadlines, and you’re coming across a few different types of deadlines, including Early Decision and Early Action. What do those mean? Which deadline should you apply for?

Read below to find out more information on Early Decision vs Early Action, and how to understand the difference. 

Early Action vs Early Decision: Understanding the Difference

Early Decision (ED)

What is Early Decision?

First and foremost, let’s talk about what Early Decision is. Early Decision is a type of admissions deadline that select colleges use for mainly first-year admission purposes. Here are five things to know about Early Decision:

  1. Early Decision is a binding application program. What does this mean? Two things:
    1. It means, that if admitted, you must attend this institution. When filling out the application, you, your parents, and your school counselor will have to sign an agreement acknowledging this. There are very limited exceptions to this rule and vary by school. Therefore, it is safe to always assume that there is no way to “back out” from an ED binding school if admitted.
    2. It also means, due to the binding nature, you can only apply to one school early decision. Meaning, if you are interested in two colleges, and they both have ED deadlines, you will only be able to apply ED to one. 
  2. Applying Early Decision can provide an advantage in terms of a higher admit rate. This is because, if you are applying ED, you are committed to that school if accepted. It is a guaranteed assurance for colleges that you will be attending their institution if accepted – therefore, a boost in admit rates. 
  3. There are two types of Early Decision deadlines, ED1 and ED2. ED2 is less common than ED1, but is still offered at select institutions. The only difference between ED1 and ED2, is that ED2 is typically a later deadline (oftentimes January) and provides less of an admit boost than ED1. A resource to see some colleges that have EDII deadlines can be found here.
  4. ED1 deadlines are typically in early November, and release decisions around December or January, making it a great way for you to know a decision early.  
  5. Not all colleges offer Early Decision. Early Decision is more common within highly selective institutions but can be at other schools as well. 

What are the pros and cons to applying ED?

Wondering if ED is the right choice for you? Here are some pros and cons:


  • Early decision provides applicants with a boost in admit rates due to its binding nature. Typically, ED admit rates are higher than overall admission rates. 
  • With the early deadline in November, you will find out your decision quicker than a regular decision deadline. In the case you are admitted, you can be less stressed and focus more on your senior year. In the case you are not admitted, there is still plenty of time to explore other options. 


  • The binding nature of ED. Sometimes, Early Decision isn’t the right fit for everyone because of its binding nature. If you’re accepted to an ED school, you won’t be able to explore any other options – and will have to withdraw your other applications to schools. This could be especially relevant if you are relying on financial aid offers. 

Early Action (EA)

What is Early Action?

Like Early Decision, Early Action is a type of admissions deadline that select colleges use for mainly first-year admission purposes. Here are three things to know about Early Action:

  1. Similar to ED, there is more than one type of “EA”
    1. Early Action (EA) – Apply early, find out early, non-binding, can apply to as many schools as you want EA
    2. *Restrictive Early Action (REA) – REA, sometimes referred to as “Single Choice Early Action”, is a non-binding noncommittal way that students can demonstrate that a school is their number one choice. The caveat to REA, is that, typically, you may not apply to any other private college/university under their Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, or Early Notification plan.
  2. Early Action (EA) is a bit more of a flexible option than ED. With EA, you are not restricted to the amount of EA schools you can apply to (*see above for Caveat to this), and the decisions are non-binding, meaning, you do not have to attend if you are accepted. 
  3. A great way to think about EA is that you apply early and find out early. It is a way for students to apply to a college in November / December, and typically find out in January. 

What are the pros and cons to EA?

Wondering if EA is the right choice for you? Here are some pros and cons:


  • EA is quite flexible, giving applicants the ability to apply early, and find out their decisions early – without the pressure to have to commit once accepted.
  • Similar to ED, if you do not get into the school EA, you still have time to apply to other schools and explore other options. 
  • Read some further benefits here!


  • EA does not provide as much of an admit boost as ED

Which one should I choose?

As you can see from the information above, there are many pros and some things to be aware of for both Early Action and Early Decision. Ultimately, the choice will be up to you to evaluate which kind of deadline is the best for your college goals. Do you have many top schools that you are interested in, and want to see all of your options? EA may be the right fit for you. Do you have your heart set on one college where submitting a strategic early application would benefit you? ED may be the right choice!

Want to learn more about comparing deadlines? Click here!
Still not sure what the best option would be for you? We can help! Set up a free initial consultation today.

Former Admissions Reader at The University of Michigan

3 years in University of Michigan Admissions
3,500+ Applications Read and Evaluated

Ever since graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Shayla Lebeck knew her passion lied within supporting students. Years later, Shayla has a graduate degree in Higher Education/Student Affairs with a concentration in academic advising.

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