Is Early Action a Smart College Admissions Strategy?

August 2, 2023
By AdmissionSight

Is Early Action a Smart College Admissions Strategy?

The college admissions process can be a stressful and competitive experience, but taking early action can give you an edge. This allows you to submit your college application before the regular deadline and receive a decision from the school earlier. Whether you’re just starting to think about college or are deep into the admissions process, this guide is a must-read for anyone looking to gain an advantage in the competitive world of college admissions.

What is early action?

It is a nonbinding option that enables students to apply to one or more institutions far earlier than regular applicants and perhaps achieve admission to one or more of those schools.

If you are applying for this college admissions strategy, you typically have until the beginning or the middle of November to submit all required application materials. These items include your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and personal statement.

Schools often send out decisions in December, January, or February and give admitted students until May 1—the national response date—to formally respond to their offers. Several of the most selective colleges in the country, notably Ivy League schools like Harvard and Princeton, have adopted more stringent policies.

This indicates that you are required to pursue this with only one school, although you are free to apply to other colleges using the usual decision process.

In addition, the National Association for College Admission Counseling explains that “students apply early and receive a decision far in advance of the institution’s standard response deadline” when they take part in this college admissions strategy.

Students should also be aware that some educational institutions use rigorous early application methods.

Popular Schools Offering Early Action

  • Georgetown University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Is early action a good idea?

Two students talking to each other.

Is it a good idea to submit an early application? Your personal circumstances and objectives will determine whether or not taking it is a sound strategy for you to pursue. Early application does, however, come with a few benefits.

  1. You don’t have to commit. If you submit your application and are accepted, the approval will not be binding. That indicates that the college will reserve your spot without requiring you to commit, which means that you can keep your options open and postpone making a final choice until May, when you will be ready to do so.
  2. It shows admissions committees your interest level and ability to meet early deadlines. Have you had a chance to go about the campus and get a feel for it? Are you pleased with how it turned out? The admissions officers are thrilled to learn that you are already enthusiastic at this stage and adore the fact that you were able to devote time to working on your application at an early stage of the procedure.
  3. You can figure out your finances sooner. If you apply for this college admissions strategy, you will find out the specifics of your packages sooner, allowing you to begin directing your research toward other scholarships or setting up appointments with financial aid advisors to discuss the further steps.
  4. There’s room for improvement. Before handing over an acceptance letter, several educational institutions are ready to provide comments to applicants if they believe that their applications have potential but might use some improvement.
  5. You also have more time to make your decision. Make use of the additional time to visit the campuses again, conduct additional research on the classes, and compile a list of the benefits and drawbacks of each option.

On the other hand, if you don’t get into the schools at the top of your list, you can use that time to rethink your selections and investigate other educational institutions.

Are there risks associated with applying early action?

While early action offers many advantages, it’s essential to be aware of some potential risks and drawbacks. Understanding these can help students make an informed decision about whether this route is right for them.

Might Need More Time for the Application to Mature

Applying through early action means meeting earlier deadlines, often in November. For some students, this might not provide enough time to put together the strongest possible application.

  • Senior Year Grades: Early action deadlines may come before first semester senior grades are available. If a student believes their senior year grades would significantly bolster their application, waiting for regular decision may be beneficial.
  • Test Scores: If a student plans on retaking standardized tests to improve their scores, the timeline might not align with early action deadlines.
  • Letters of Recommendation and Essays: Rushing to meet early action deadlines might lead to less time to craft thoughtful essays or obtain strong letters of recommendation. A more hurried application might not represent a student’s best work.

Potential Impact on Other Applications

Focusing on an early action application can potentially divert time and energy away from preparing other applications. If a student puts all their efforts into an early application and is then deferred or rejected, they may find themselves scrambling to complete other applications on time.

Stress and Pressure

Hand holding paper cut head on white background

The expedited timeline of early action can add additional stress to an already intense process. Managing this tight schedule while balancing schoolwork and other commitments may prove overwhelming for some students.

Perception of Commitment

Some colleges may view an early action application as a sign that the school is a top choice for the student. If a student is not admitted through early action and then applies to the same school through regular decision, the school might question the student’s genuine interest. While this is rare, it’s something students should be aware of.

Limited Knowledge of Other Options

Applying early might mean committing to a school before fully exploring all available options. If admitted through early action, the excitement might overshadow thorough consideration of other schools that could be a better fit academically, financially, or socially.

While early action can be a strategic move in the college admissions process, it isn’t suitable for everyone. It requires careful consideration of one’s academic readiness, the ability to meet earlier deadlines, and a clear understanding of the prospective schools.

Balancing the potential benefits with these risks is crucial to determining whether early action is the right path for a particular student. Consulting with a college admissions expert or school counselor can provide valuable insights tailored to a student’s unique situation and goals, ensuring that they make the most informed decision possible.

How can students determine if early action is right for them?

Choosing whether or not to apply via early action can be a complex decision. It requires careful consideration of various factors including the student’s academic readiness, alignment with the schools’ requirements, interest in specific institutions, and understanding of the potential financial implications.

Below is a step-by-step guide to help students evaluate if early action is the right choice for them:

1. Assess Academic Readiness

  • Evaluate Your Transcript: Consider whether your current grades and accomplishments reflect your best abilities. If your senior year might significantly improve your profile, you may want to wait for regular decision.
  • Standardized Test Scores: If you’ve taken all necessary standardized tests and are satisfied with the results, early action might be a good option.

2. Understand the School’s Requirements and Culture

  • Research the Institution: Thoroughly research the schools that offer early action to understand if they align with your career goals and personal interests.
  • Visit the Campus: If possible, visit the campus to get a feel for the environment. Does it feel like a good fit for you?

Happy students walking together.

3. Consider Financial Implications

  • Understand Financial Aid Options: Research how early action might affect your financial aid package. If you need to compare different financial aid offers, you may want to consider regular decision instead.
  • Evaluate Your Family’s Financial Situation: Talk with your family about what you can afford, and consider how early action might fit into that plan.

4. Reflect on Your Level of Interest

  • Identify Your Top Choices: If you have a clear first-choice school that offers early action, and you meet all the criteria, this can be a strong indication that early action is right for you.
  • Consider Your Commitment: Early action is non-binding, but it does signal strong interest in a school. Make sure that the schools you’re applying to are places you genuinely want to attend.

5. Consult with a Guidance Counselor or College Admissions Expert

  • Seek Professional Advice: Sometimes, an external perspective can provide clarity. Discuss your situation with a guidance counselor or college admissions expert to understand the pros and cons in your specific case.

6. Create a Timeline and Plan

  • Understand Deadlines: Early action requires meeting earlier deadlines. Consider if you have enough time to gather all necessary materials and create a strong application.
  • Balance Your Time: If you’re applying to several schools via early action, ensure that you can devote enough time to each application without compromising quality.

Determining whether early action is the right choice is a personal and sometimes challenging decision. By systematically evaluating your readiness, researching schools, considering financial aspects, and seeking professional guidance, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your goals and aspirations.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all answer; what’s most important is choosing the path that feels right for your individual situation.

Is it OK to miss early action?

Is it acceptable to skip out on the early action? Even though missing the deadline may be upsetting, it is not the end of the world if you do so.

You can still apply to the school of your choice through the standard admissions procedure, and there is a chance that you will be accepted there.

However, it is essential that you are aware that submitting your application early provides you with a significant advantage and that missing the deadline may lower the likelihood of your application being accepted.

One young smiling caucasian man, student in glasses sits on floor with laptop isolated on yellow studio background.

If you missed the deadline, you should focus on making your regular application as strong as possible by ensuring that all required materials are submitted on time and giving your best effort on the essays and other application components.

In addition, contacting the admissions office and showing your continuous interest in the institution is a great way to showcase your dedication and boost the likelihood that you will be accepted there.

Students who are certain about the college they wish to attend and who wish to raise their likelihood of being accepted might benefit greatly from the early application process.

It allows you to submit your application earlier, receive a decision sooner, and demonstrate your genuine interest in the school. However, it’s important to carefully consider your individual circumstances and goals before making a decision.

If you choose to apply early, it is essential to ensure that your application is well-prepared and complete, as well as to have a solid understanding of the particular requirements and deadlines that are imposed by the schools to which you are applying.

How can a student prepare for an early action application?

Applying for early action means meeting earlier deadlines, which can be both an opportunity and a challenge for students eager to secure a spot at their desired institution. Since the timelines are accelerated, a well-structured plan is essential to ensure all components of the application are ready and reflect the student’s best efforts.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for an early action application:

1. Understand the Deadlines and Requirements

  • Research: Start by researching the specific early action deadlines and requirements for each school on your list. Requirements can vary widely, so be sure to note down the details.
  • Create a Schedule: Outline a schedule working backward from the deadlines to plan out when each component needs to be completed.

2. Gather Transcripts and Standardized Test Scores

  • Request Transcripts Early: Transcripts from your high school may take time to process, so request them well in advance.
  • Standardized Test Scores: Ensure that you have taken necessary standardized tests (such as the SAT or ACT) in time for scores to be reported.

3. Secure Letters of Recommendation

  • Identify Recommenders: Choose teachers or mentors who know you well and can write insightful recommendations.
  • Provide Information: Supply your recommenders with a resume or list of accomplishments and specific instructions on where and how to send their recommendations.
  • Request Early: Remember that your recommenders may be writing letters for other students as well, so give them plenty of notice.

4. Craft a Strong Personal Statement

  • Brainstorm and Outline: Start with brainstorming ideas and creating an outline for your essay. Focus on what makes you unique and why you’re a good fit for the school.
  • Write and Revise: Write multiple drafts and seek feedback from teachers, mentors, or professional services.
  • Personalize: If applying to multiple schools, ensure that each essay is tailored to the specific institution’s prompt and values.

View of a woman writing in a table.

5. Complete Supplemental Essays and Materials

  • Review Requirements: Some schools may require additional essays or materials. Review these early and allocate time to complete them.
  • Integrate Your Voice: Make sure that any supplemental materials align with the overall narrative of your application.

6. Apply for Financial Aid if Needed

  • Complete Forms: Complete necessary financial aid forms like the FAFSA as early as possible, as some aid is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis.
  • Explore Scholarships: Look for scholarships that you may qualify for and ensure you meet their deadlines.

7. Review and Submit Your Application

  • Thorough Review: Carefully review all parts of your application to catch any errors or inconsistencies.
  • Submission: Submit your application ahead of the deadline to avoid any last-minute technical issues.

8. Keep Communication Lines Open

  • Check Emails Regularly: Schools may communicate important information via email. Regularly check your inbox and spam folder.
  • Respond Promptly: If the school reaches out with questions or requests additional information, respond as quickly as possible.

Preparing for an early action application requires careful planning and attention to detail. By following these steps, students can navigate the process confidently and present an application that reflects their abilities and aspirations.

Whether you’re thinking about early action or not, initial consultation with a college admissions expert can provide valuable insights and help you make informed decisions. Here at AdmissionSight, we will have the opportunity to discuss with you your goals, aspirations, and any concerns you may have about the admissions process. So don’t wait any longer. Book your initial consultation today and take the first step towards a bright future.


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