Is Early Action Binding?

October 12, 2021
By AdmissionSight

Is Early Action Binding?

While the acceptance rates at the most competitive and prestigious schools – such as the eight Ivy League schools – are at an all-time low, students who know precisely what school is at the very top of their list have one crucial tool that they can utilize. That tool is known as Early Action. But is early action binding, and what other important facts do high school students that are interested in utilizing it need to know? Well, you have come to the right place to find all that out and more!

At AdmissionSight, we believe that one of the most important things that high school students need to have as they begin their college application journey is knowledge. With the right kind of knowledge, students can dramatically improve their chances of getting into the schools of their dreams, even if those schools are highly competitive ones like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UChicago and more.

So, without further delay, let’s get into what high school students need to know about Early Action.

Early Action definition

Early Action, otherwise known as EA, is a type of early admissions process that is offered by certain schools for admissions to colleges and universities in the United States. Unlike the typical application process, known as regular decision, Early Action typically requires students to submit their completed education by the middle of October or early November of their senior year of high school. That runs in comparison to the deadline for regular decision applications, which are due on January 1.

Moreover, students who apply Early Action will be notified of the school’s decision regarding their application by early January as opposed to the middle of March or even as late as May, which is typical for regular decision applicants.

So, the answer to the question “is early action binding?” is a resounding no! Great news for students who have one particular target school but also want to keep their options open.

But what about the other early admission rules?

And what is the difference between Early Action and Early Decision? Well, the main difference is that, unlike Early Decision, Early Action is not binding. If a student is accepted under the rules of Early Decision, they must withdraw all over application and enroll at that institution if they are accepted.

As a result of that fact, students are also only able to apply to one school Early Decision at one time.  It is important for students to figure out if the schools that they are applying to are binding vs. non binding colleges.

However, with Early Action, students are not bound to enroll at the school if they are accepted. Early Action allows students to decline the offer if they are accepted. On top of that, depending on the program, it may be possible for a student to apply to more than one EA school – on top of an ED school.

Ultimately, early action is the perfect option for students who know that they prefer one specific school over all the other options because they will know the result of their application sooner.

5 FAQs on Early Admission Rules

So, now that you have a pretty solid idea when it comes to the actual definition of Early Action, chances are good that you have quite a few more questions regarding early admissions rules and the early decision restrictions in general.

If that is the case, then you have come to the right place! Here are some of the more frequently asked questions regarding early admissions rules along with the corresponding answers.

Let’s get started!

Question 1: What is a binding vs. non-binding college application?

The answer to this question should be fairly straight forward, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t go over it nonetheless!

When talking about a binding college application, people essentially mean that in the event that an applicant is actually accepted to that school, then they will have to attend it. That means that they will have to withdraw any applications that they still have out or will have to reject any accepted application that they have already received.

When it comes to Early Decision, students who are accepted have to apply, unless there are some unusual circumstances at play.  There are some schools that offer Early Decision II forms of application, which essentially allows a student to make it clear to a school that it is their number one choice, without having to necessarily attend in the event that they are accepted.

When it comes to Early Action, it is considered to be non-binding. Students who apply to schools Early Action can apply to as many schools as they like and do not have to necessarily attend a school if they are accepted to it through Early Action.

Question 2: What are the common Early Decision restrictions?

Approximately 450 colleges in the United States offer either Early Decision, Early Action or both for high school students. Currently, five out of the eight Ivy League schools have binding Early Decision programs. Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University have Early Action programs that allow students who are admitted early to also apply to other schools.

Male student looking out the window in front of a laptop.

With that being said, it is important to keep in mind that Early Decision has dealt with some criticism in recent years, as it is seen as being a restrictive program for students who are from low-income families. The reason why is because ED applicants do not have the chance to apply for financial aid offers.

Overall, when it comes to the Early Decision and Early Action restrictions, here are some crucial ones that every interested student should keep in mind:

Early Decision applicants

  • Apply early (usually in November) to first-choice college.
  • Receive an admission decision from the college well in advance of the usual notification date (usually by December).
  • Agree to attend the college if accepted and offered a financial aid package that is considered adequate by the family.
  • Apply to only one college early decision.
  • Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
  • Withdraw all other applications if accepted by ED.
  • Send a nonrefundable deposit well in advance of May 1.

Early Action applicants

  • Apply early.
  • Receive an admission decision early in the admission cycle (usually in January or February).
  • Consider an acceptance offer; do not have to commit upon receipt.
  • Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
  • Give the college a decision no later than the May 1 national response date.

Question 3: Can you apply Early Action to multiple schools?

It is important to get an answer to the question, “Can you apply early action to multiple schools?”

Unlike the Early Decision restrictions that students need to be aware of if they plan on applying to any school that way, Early Action is a non-binding form of applying to cools. Across the board, Early Action is non-binding, but you will want to make sure to do some research into the  Early Action policies for any school that you are thinking of applying to in that way.

Still, it is widely known that Early Action does not require students to end up attending a school should they get in, and students are able to apply to multiple schools using the non binding Early Action approach.

Female student thinking about something while studying.

Because Early Action is non binding, you may be wondering what the actual point of it is. Well, there are obvious benefits of Early Action, such as you get to apply early, you get to find out whether or not you were accepted early, and you also get to express your desire to attend that school more than your other options.

Believe it or not, admissions officers really do take this into consideration, as they are looking for students who will work hard once they get to school and will have a positive impact on the school’s campus during their years there. What better way to show that you will be an enthusiastic student than getting involved in this way?

Question 4: Does Early Action increase chances of admission?

This is probably the most important question that high school students have about the Early Decision and/or Early Action forms of applications. That is especially true if a student already knows what school they are most interested in attending.

While applying Early Action/Early Decision will not allow a student to overcome great gaps or question marks in their application, there is a clear statistical benefit to applying in these ways.

Female student holding her books near a wall of yellow wall.

For restrictive Early Decision, it is believed that students enjoy benefits from around six percent to approximately eight percent.

For non restrictive Early Action, it is believed that students enjoy benefits from around four percent to six percent! While these may seem like very small percentages for such a massive decision, there is little doubt that it can have a major impact on students who are applying to the most restrictive and competitive schools.

For students who are interested in attending one of the eight Ivy League schools, then chances are good that they only really care about how applying Early Decision or Early Action will improve their chances of getting in.

Well, a table depicting the different acceptance rate percentages for the Ivy League schools in both Regular Decision or Early Action/Early Decision should give anyone a good idea of just how beneficial it can be.

Please note: These are numbers gathered from Ivy League schools based on the application cycle for the graduating class of 2025. While acceptance rates and admissions statistics change year by year, this serves as a fantastic predictor for the graduating class of 2026 and beyond,

A table of acceptance rates from different universities.

As you can see, there are incredible benefits for students who are looking to attend an Ivy League school to apply via Early Action or Early Decision. While it will not help a student overcome a low GPA, underwhelming standardized questions or any other issues that may exist on a student’s application profile, it can certainly make a strong candidate’s case to get into an Ivy League school even stronger.

Question 5: What happens if you apply Early Decision and don’t go?

So, you want to apply to a school with a binding Early Decision application, but you are worried about what could happen if you end up wanting to go to another school even if you do get into the school that you applied to via Early Decision?

Well, you may be wondering what could happen to you if you end up not accepting the offer and backing out of your Early Decision application.

Female student watching her laptop.

So, what happens if you apply Early Decision and don’t go? Well, the answer to that question all depends on the circumstances.

If you have a good reason to back out of an Early Decision offer from a college or university, the school will very often let you leave without any penalty. A very common reason for being released from a binding Early Decision application is due to financial reasons. Sometimes, students simply do not receive the kind of financial aid that they need to attend a certain school. If that is the case, the school will very likely let a student go of the binding agreement.

Beyond that, other reasons students can back out has to do with family issues such as a sick parent or family member, a different kind of unforeseen life event, or something similar.

With all that being said, it is also really important for students to recognize that there will very likely be consequences for students who apply Early Decision and then attempt to pull their application anyway.

Students need to know that colleges rescind offers if a student decides to apply Early Decision to multiple schools in bad faith. It has also been known for high school counselors to not even send out applications if a student has already applied to a school via Early Decision.

Finally, students need to be aware of the fact that schools do share Early Decision lists with one another. If two schools find out that a student applied to two schools via Early Decision, there is a very large chance that neither will accept the student!

Question 6: What are the top Ivy League schools and their early admission rules

In case you do not know the schools that are in the Ivy League, here is a list of the schools in order of rank based on the 2021 US News rankings:

  • Princeton University (No. 1 overall nationally)
  • Harvard University (No. 2 overall nationally)
  • Columbia University (No. 3 overall nationally)
  • Yale University (No. 5 overall nationally)
  • University of Pennsylvania (No. 8 overall nationally)
  • Dartmouth College (No. 13 overall nationally)
  • Brown University  (No. 14 overall nationally)

Now that you know the schools, here are some important bits of information regarding the schools’ Early Action/Early Decision policies pulled form Princeton’s own website:

“The College Board-approved Early Decision Plan, which is offered by Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania, requires a prior commitment to matriculate. Financial aid awards for those qualifying for financial assistance will normally be announced in full detail at the same time as the admission decisions.”

“A Single Choice Early Action Plan is offered by Harvard, Princeton (except for the 2020-21 first-year admission cycle), and Yale. This plan does not require a commitment to matriculate, and students may apply to other colleges under those colleges’ regular admission programs (spring notification of final admission decision) but not to another private institution’s Early Action or Early Decision program.”

On top of that, it is important that students know that students who want to apply by Early Decision or Early Action need to apply by early to mid-November and complete their applications supporting material shortly after that. On top of that, a student who is applying to Ivy League schools can only apply to one school either Early Decision or Early Action within the Ivy League!

Need more advice on applying to top-tier colleges?

If there is one thing that you have likely gathered for certain from this, it’s that applying to any school Early Decision/Early Action is a really important decision to make. For some students, the process of applying to schools can be a more stressful experience than high school itself!

For that reason, some students seek guidance and help from experienced professionals who have gone through the application process many times. That’s where we from AdmissionSight come in. Our experienced consultants will not only help students make decisions when it comes to what schools they should apply to, but also help them get in!

That’s why we’re so proud of our 75 percent success rate of getting out students into Ivy League or other top-tier schools.

Contact us today if you would like to schedule a free consultation and learn more about what we offer our students.

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