What Is Early Admission To College?

July 20, 2022
By AdmissionSight

What Is Early Admission To College?

What is the ideal time to apply to colleges? The response is sometimes as simple as “anytime before the deadline.”

Students can submit their applications much earlier at other schools as they typically find out about the result of their admissions before winter break. Depending on the college, they might even have a better chance of getting in. But not all students should submit their applications as soon as possible.

Female student staring at his laptop.

Many institutions “…have a significantly higher admit rate during this round (early admissions) than during the regular decision round,” claim Grown and Flown. Regular-decision admissions are “quickly becoming the road less taken,” according to a recent article by U.S. News, and “According to the College Board, about 450 colleges have one or both of these (early admissions) plans.”

Now, what is early admission to college? How does it work? Let us find out by defining early decision and early action.

Early Decision

Early decision is a legally binding decision. You’ve made a commitment to go in this instance. Consequently, if you are accepted as an early applicant and are offered a reasonable financial aid package, you must enroll at that college or university.

You should be aware of the following regarding early decision:

  • Other schools cannot accept your application.
  • You won’t be applying to any other colleges or universities once you’ve been accepted, and you’ll have to withdraw any applications you’ve sent to other colleges.

Early Action

You’re demonstrating a strong interest in your top choice college, much like early decision. You would submit your application in the early fall, and the university would typically respond by mid-December.

What distinguishes early action from early decision is as follows:

  • You can apply early action to other schools;
  • If admitted, you are not obligated to enroll.
  • If your application is accepted, you can decide whether to accept the offer right away or wait to consider admissions offers before making a final decision on College Decision Day (May 1 is the regular decision norm).

Is Early Admission Binding?

We have learned about early action and early decision in the previous query about what is early admission to college. The next question is, “is early admission binding?”

Early Action (EA) has no legal force. Normally, you are free to apply to other colleges, and even if you get accepted, you are not required to enroll.

Using a laptop to apply for college.

Restrictive early action (REA) is not binding as well. Typically, you have until May 1 to make a choice. You won’t be able to submit an early application (ED, EA, or REA) to any other colleges, though.

Early Decision (ED) has legal force. You must withdraw all other applications and attend the college if you are accepted and receive enough financial aid. Only one college will accept your early decision application.

How Does Early Admission Work?

Plans for early decision (ED) and early action (EA) can be advantageous for students, but only if they have carefully considered their college options and have a distinct preference for one institution. Let’s discuss how does early admission work.

Early Action As Opposed to Early Decision

Early decision plans are legally binding, and students who are admitted as ED applicants are required to enroll in the college.

Early action plans are non-binding; although students receive a response to their application earlier than usual (by May 1), they are not required to enroll in the college until that time. Counselors must make sure that pupils are aware of this crucial distinction between the two plans. There are early decision or early action plans at about 450 colleges, some of which have both.

Using a laptop to type in his lap.

Single-choice early action is a non-binding option that some colleges provide, and it prevents applicants from applying early decision or early action to any other colleges. ED plans have drawn criticism for being unfair to students from low-income families because they don’t have the chance to compare financial aid offers. This might unfairly favor applicants from families with more financial means.

We already answered the question, “what is early admission to college?” Let us move on to the next, “how does early admission work?”

ED Candidates

  • Submit an early application to your top college (typically in November).
  • Have the college notify you of its admission decision well in advance of the customary notification date (usually by December).
  • Agree to enroll in the college if accepted and given a financial aid package that the family deems sufficient.
  • Apply early decision to just one college.
  • Submit applications for regular admission to additional colleges.
  • If ED accepts your application, withdraw all other applications.
  • Send a non-refundable down payment well before May 1.

EA Candidates

  • Submit your application as soon as possible.
  • Get a decision on admission early in the application cycle (usually in January or February).
  • Consider the acceptance offer; you don’t have to accept it right away.
  • Submit regular applications to other colleges.
  • Make a decision by the May 1 national response date.

Is It Better to Apply Early Action Or Early Decision?

We’ve learned about what is early admission to college and how does early action and early decision work. It is now time to answer, “is it better to apply early action or early decision?”

Cons and Benefits of Early Action

Early action might be the best option since your chances of being accepted might increase.

The university is aware that they are your top choice of college since you took early action. Another thing to think about is that the decline in college enrollment may prompt the admissions office to make a play for you as a student in order to prevent losing out on more applicants come fall 2021.

Applying in college using a laptop.

You meet the requirements set forth by the university’s current student body. Although you are confident in your ability to succeed as an “XYZ” university student, you’d still like to learn about the financial aid options available from additional top choices.

Financial aid options can be compared. You will be able to contrast available financial aid options. This can assist you in locating a more reasonably priced college that also fits your financial situation.

In the final few months of your senior year, you’d prefer to stay away from the typical acceptance stress. Your senior year is an important one. There are numerous events you should take the time to fully appreciate, including Prom, senior pictures, and senior skip day.

If the financial aid package works for you, you already know this is THE school you’ll attend.

If you decide to go this route, there aren’t many reasons to think twice about applying early. When using early an action, keep the following in mind: the best application in the group might be yours.

Students who apply for early college admission are typically among the brightest. As you submit an early action request, keep this in mind. There will probably be several application fees that you must pay. You probably intend to apply early action to more than one university since most colleges charge an application fee.

As you start to submit your early action applications, keep this in mind.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Early Decision

On the other hand, an early decision can be a good idea if you know for sure that you want to attend a specific college. Your academic profile resembles that of other students at that university. In your senior year of high school, you want to avoid any late-spring admissions rush. You and your family have virtually visited this college after narrowing down your list of potential colleges.

In essence, you know what you’re getting. You already have everything planned out; all you need to do is wait for your acceptance letter to fly your college pennant.

Counselors for college admissions love early decision students, of course. It significantly reduces the amount of back and forth in their process. It doesn’t take as much work to sell their college because you’re a shoe-in.

If you have any doubts about the amount of financial aid you’ll receive from this institution. The financial aid package you might receive before applying can be estimated by some college admissions counselors, but it’s only an estimate.

Regarding a few other schools, you’re interested. With this path, you are constrained and cannot decide to change your mind. Making a decision you’ll regret is not the worst thing you can do, believe me.

You should rethink applying early decision if you’ve even considered attending another college. Soon, a final choice will need to be made. Less time will be available for you to consider your higher education options.

You could raise your final GPA by using the second semester. You might want to wait if you know you can improve your grades or raise your GPA by the end of your senior year. Keep in mind that some schools award merit scholarships based on your academic standing and GPA. If you believe you can improve your situation in the spring, you don’t want to miss out on this chance for financial aid.

Your application might not be as distinctive. Candidates who apply for early decision are frequently very qualified. This might make it more difficult for people to notice your application. Not everyone should make an early decision. Only if you are certain where you want to attend college and are confident that you will be accepted should you apply for early decision.

Does Early Admission Increase Chances?

While it might seem, at first glance, that early admission applicants have a significant advantage over regular decision applicants, it’s important to keep in mind other factors that influence these numbers.

For instance, since they have made the school their top choice, applicants to ED are more likely to fit the profile of students who attend the institution. It’s also possible that these students are more futuristic than some others because anyone who applies early must finish their applications before their peers.

Having said that, it is still true that students who apply early have an advantage, even when the aforementioned theories are taken into consideration. So, does early admission increase chances?

Even though ED admission rates are now lower than RD admission rates, they were 10–12% higher for ED applicants just a few years ago. Although data from the same year still shows an advantage of 4-6 percent over RD applicants, EA doesn’t offer as much of an admission advantage as ED. Restrictive or single-choice early action plans, which forbid students from applying to other colleges, provide a marginally higher boost of 6–8%.

The difference between early and regular admission rates varies by school, as shown in the chart below. For instance, the difference in admissions rates at MIT, which has a nonrestrictive EA plan, is negligible—4.8 percent for EA vs. 4 percent RD.

Acceptance Rates for Early Decision and Early Action in 2020 and 2021

Not all universities release information about their early decision and early action acceptance rates. Some of the national universities on US News’ lists of the best colleges are listed below. They have provided this information for the 2020–21 admissions cycle:


ED Acceptance Rate EA Acceptance Rate

Overall Acceptance Rate

Harvard University N/A 7.90% 5%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology N/A 4.70% 7.30%
University of Notre Dame N/A 24.20% 19%
Yale University N/A 10.90% 6.50%
Dartmouth University 24.89% N/A 9.20%
Vanderbilt University 24.10% N/A 11.60%
Duke University 21% N/A 7.70%
Johns Hopkins University 21% N/A 9%
Rice University 18.00% N/A 9%
University of Pennsylvania 15.60% N/A 9%
Brown University 14.60% N/A 7.70%

Can You Get Rejected From Early Admission?

After learning about what is early admission to college and taking interest in applying early, you might wonder, “can you get rejected from early admission?”

Early decision-making and early action may have two benefits. If it is accepted, you can submit just one application to get into the college of your choice. If not, you obtain insightful information that will raise your chances of being admitted on a regular basis.

Don’t lose heart if you fall into the second category and find yourself in a bind; you already have excellent material at your disposal. You can secure a spot at a top university in a matter of simple steps.

Find out if you were rejected or deferred

Most colleges and universities that offer early decision or early action programs make a distinction between deferral and rejection. Which status is applicable to your application should be made clear in the letter you have received. You will have to wait until the following year to reapply if your application was denied.

Although hearing this may be painful, you still have options, including reapplying to your top choice school during the following admissions cycle or applying to other schools.

If you were deferred, you won’t need to submit your application again because you’ll be automatically added to the regular admission pool. Keep in mind that you should still apply to other schools. Reiterate your interest in the institution by getting in touch with the admissions office.

You can communicate via email, but a letter or phone call might show your sincerity more effectively. Ask the admissions office if the school will accept additions to your current application package when you speak with them. If they agree, you must provide evidence of your ongoing development, such as improved test results or stellar first-semester grades.

Extend your horizons

You must expand your horizons beyond the one early admissions school. Think about the things that attracted you the most to this institution. List them all out, then use this list to help you decide which colleges to attend.

If you were to apply to a prestigious national university, for instance, you might think about a top regional university instead. Even though name recognition might take a little longer, you might develop a stronger alumni network at that local university. Focus your search on this area if the strength of a specific major or program at your top-choice school attracted you there. Very few academic fields are ultimately confined to a single institution.

A college with a strong independent studies program might be a good choice if your interests are very specific. If at all possible, talk to prospective faculty mentors to make sure you have supporters for your plan

Be open-minded as you make your new shortlist. Avoid the pitfall of comparing your dream school to every possible college or university. Every school you look at will have something special to offer potential students. You might even come across something new that you would have otherwise missed.

Jeff had always wanted to study physics at the University of Chicago, where much of the work on the Manhattan Project was completed, as one illustrative example. He was devastated to be rejected for early admission, but he was also determined to pursue his dream of studying physics no matter what. He became aware that a large state university he had detested employed a physicist who had won the Nobel Prize and had an excellent undergraduate research program. He made the decision to apply, and he quickly accepted the school’s admission offer.

Make your pitch stronger

Take a moment to review your early decision or early admission application as you get ready to proceed.

Were there any flaws in it? Ask a mentor or guidance counselor to help you assess your materials if you’re unsure. Create a strategy to improve any aspects of your application that might reduce your competitiveness.

Consider making improvements if, for example, your test scores reflect a lower percentile than your GPA. You might be able to include your fall semester results if you’re concerned that your GPA or the caliber of your transcript is a problem.

Two women talking in a table.

The upward trajectory is frequently more important to admissions officers than the simple averages. Success after a challenging beginning shows grit, determination, and the capacity for adaptation. These qualities are highly prized in potential college students.

Above all, keep trying. You’re far ahead of the game at this point because you’ve already completed an entire college application. Keep moving forward and keep a positive outlook; you’ll soon find a school that will challenge and develop you.

Should You Do Early Admission?

Should you do early admission? Let us discuss some more about the pros and cons of applying early.

At some universities, your chances of acceptance are statistically much higher if you apply in the early round as opposed to the regular decision applicant pool. Keep in mind that early applicants are likely to have more competitive application profiles than regular applicants. Students who intend to apply for ED or EA must therefore be prepared to submit their best application.

Using a computer to apply for college.

Early application is also one of the most effective ways to increase your “IQ” – interest quotient or demonstrated interest. Applying early is the most effective way to convey to a college that it is your top choice and that you are fully committed to attending. Even if the decision is not binding, requesting an admissions decision before applying elsewhere demonstrates your commitment.

Certain types of applicants, including athletes, heirs, and some international students, can also benefit from applying early. Colleges seek to create well-rounded classes composed of specialists, and there is frequently limited space for students within a particular applicant category. When evaluating applications, colleges consider their institutional needs; however, with some colleges filling over half of their freshman classes with early applicants, there is a chance that an applicant’s specialty will no longer be a need by the time the regular round of applications begins.

Early-round applicants typically have their best foot forward heading into their senior year, including:

  • Strong junior year grades
  • Excellent junior-year courses
  • Strong SAT or ACT scores
  • Strong list of activities
  • Recommendation letters from relevant instructors
  • A head start on admissions essays
  • A realistic and balanced list of colleges that are ideal fits

It is imperative that all components of an early application be prepared at the beginning of the academic year and be ready for submission by November 1st. Consider delaying your application until you can demonstrate improvement in the regular admissions round.

The fact that many colleges will not see your senior year grades if you apply early, don’t let a poor junior year performance send your early application to the “no” pile; improving your grades and reapplying could get you in.

Here is where the assistance of your college counselor will be most beneficial. He or she will be able to assess your applicant profile and recommend the optimal application strategy given the available information. While it may be tempting to apply early to your top-choice college just to get it over with and receive a decision quickly, it is important to understand how your application strategy can affect your chances of admission.

Early application can be advantageous for students who are prepared, but detrimental for those who are not. If you follow your college counselor’s advice, you will have a successful admissions season, whether you learn your fate in December or April.

We, at AdmissionSight, would also love to help you prepare for your application and to share more about what is early admission to college and its advantages and disadvantages. You may check about us more on our site and do not hesitate to book a consultation for a thorough discussion.

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