If your child finds a college that seems a perfect fit, applying early may be a good idea. Early decision and early action plans allow your child to apply early (usually in November) and get an admission decision from the college well before the usual spring notification date. You know by December or January whether your child has been accepted at the first-choice college.
Sometimes, students who apply under these plans have a better chance of acceptance than they would through the regular admission process. These plans are also good for colleges because they get students who really want to go to the college to commit early in the process.
Early Decision vs. Early Action
Your child should understand the differences between early decision and early action before sending in their college applications. Keep in mind, also, that the rules may vary somewhat by college. Your child can check with the school counselor to get an understanding of the early applicant’s rights and obligations.
Bear in mind that…
Early decision plans are binding. Your child agrees to attend the college if accepted and if the college offers an adequate financial aid package. Although your child can apply to only one college for early decision, applying to other colleges through the regular admission process is allowed. If your child is accepted by the first-choice college early, all other applications must be withdrawn.
Early action plans are similar to early decision plans, but are not binding. If accepted, your child can choose to commit to the college immediately, or wait until the spring. Under these plans, your child may also apply early action to other colleges. Usually, candidates have until the late spring to let the college know their decision.
Single-choice early action is a new option offered by a few colleges. This plan works the same way as other early action plans, but candidates may not apply early (either early action or early decision) to any other college. Your child can still apply to other colleges under regular decision plans and is not required to give a final answer to the early-application college until the regular decision deadline.
Should My Child Apply Under One of These Plans? Your child should apply under an early decision or early action plan only if your child is very sure about wanting to attend a particular college. You child should not apply under an early decision or early action plan if planning to weigh offers and financial aid packages from several colleges later in the spring. Also, your child shouldn’t apply early if it would be beneficial to have more senior year work to show a college.
Early Decision and Early Action Calendar
If your child is even considering the option of early decision or early action, here are the steps your child needs to take:
- Take college admission tests, such as the SAT and ACT.
- Visit colleges during spring break.
- Take SAT Subject Tests to demonstrate your knowledge and achievement in specific subject areas and to help you stand out on your college applications.
- Work hard and keep up good grades.
- Complete applications.
- Get teachers to write letters of recommendation.
- File early decision or early action applications according to college deadlines and procedures.
- Take the SAT if necessary (Note: October is the last test date that makes scores available in time for early decision and early action programs).
- File any early applications by the college deadline.
- Follow up with teacher recommendations.
- Work on regular-decision applications as a backup in case you’re not accepted early decision or early action.
- File any college-based financial aid forms that may be required of early decision candidates.