Early Decision vs Early Action – What Should You Do?

As the new school year is about to begin, the stress of college applications especially for our high school seniors is growing across the world.  Having a coherent application strategy is critical to getting optimal results and can definitely impact your chances of gaining admission to your top choice colleges. In this post, we will discuss early decision (ED) vs early action (EA) – what’s better for you.

Critical Factors for College Admissions

If you take a step back and analyze the critical factors for college admissions, 5 critical areas emerge:  (1)  Grades, (2)  Essays, (3)  Recommendations, (4) Extracurricular activities, and (5) Demonstrated Interest. 

Let’s briefly understand each of these areas. 


The most critical aspect of your application unsurprisingly is your grades.  They represent the single most important factor for college admissions so please make sure they are in great shape should you choose to apply early.


Essays offer you the opportunity to express yourself uniquely and add context to the application.  It is the only real-time you can give information about yourself not found anywhere else in your package.  Unfortunately, it also is the most time-consuming and difficult part of the application. So you must start early enough to give you time to craft something special.

Letters of Recommendation

An often underappreciated element of the application process is a letter of recommendation from your teachers and counselors.  Make sure you choose the right people and allow them plenty of time to meet deadlines.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities give students an outlet to express their interests as well as demonstrate leadership.  In addition, extracurricular activities show colleges a wide range of your personality aspects and characteristics that can form a positive impression, such as being willing to learn new skills or work with others as a team.

Demonstrated Interest

Lastly, students need to be cognizant of demonstrated and informed interest. You must show a level of interest and commitment to attending the colleges you are applying to. 

This means attending information sessions, doing virtual or personal college tours, and contacting admissions officers.  Don’t take this lightly, it is actually an important part of the application.

Early Decision (EA) vs Early Action (ED)

Having said all of this, does it make sense to apply early to maximize your chances of gaining admission to your top college choices. 

Let’s walk through your choices:

When you apply Early Decision (ED) you are demonstrating your true interest in your top choice college.  Remember ED acceptance is binding, meaning that you agree if you are accepted you will enroll. 

Early Decision vs Early Action – What Should You Do?
Image Source: CollegeRaptor

Benefits of Applying to the Early Decision Round

Admission rates are higher in this pool than regular admissions but this is a serious decision for a number of reasons. 

  • First, the pool is far more competitive and will be composed of top students.  You can only apply to ONE ED school. 
  • Second, the deadlines are much earlier than regular admissions, typically early to mid-November.  So you need to do everything sooner while continuing to work on your other college applications.  ED decisions typically come in mid-December. 
  • Lastly, if financial aid is an important factor the ramifications of ED are important.

Advantages of Early Action Round

If you are not ready to commit to the binding decision of ED, you should consider Early Action (EA) or SCEA (Single Choice or Restricted Early Action).  Your admissions chances do increase in this pool as well but are more competitive as well. 

This round is particularly favorable for legacy students who wish to leverage their status.  EA and SCEA students will typically receive their decisions in mid-December but there may be restrictions about where else you can apply. 

If applying EA, students can still apply in the Regular Decision pool or do EA to other schools, but SCEA students can only apply Regular Decision to other institutions.  SCEA students must wait until they get their decision before applying EA or EDII unless it is a public university.

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Given how competitive admissions have gotten at the top schools, EA is a great option for students with excellent grades, test scores, and top-notch applications.  They can continue to work on their regular decision applications.  Remember, students who apply via EA or SCEA can be denied or deferred but they can still have the option of applying ED II to another top college if they decide EA or SCEA is no longer a good option for them.

Alternatives (Back-Up Options)

There is another option to consider Early Decision II (ED2).  ED2 is also a binding option, meaning you have to attend if accepted.  The difference between ED and ED2 is timing. 

Most colleges offering both options ask ED I, students, to apply by mid-November, and they give decisions by mid-December. The deadline for ED II, on the other hand, is on or around Jan. 1. Students typically have a decision in late January or early February. 

Also, if you are deferred or denied at your EA school, you can pursue your ED chances at another college with ED2.  ED2 is a great strategy for students who are strong applicants but may need additional time to get their applications in top shape. ED2 can also help students leverage their legacy status if they have it to have the best chance of admission without the stress of the earlier deadline.


As you can see, there is a myriad of options and strategies students have with respect to Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decisions.  We at Stoodnt are here to help you think through the options so you have the best chances of success.

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