When You Should Think Twice About Applying During Early Action

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

At home, a female student is typing on her laptop.

When You Should Think Twice About Applying During Early Action

If you’ve come across the terms Early Action and Early Decision, you’re probably wondering what they mean and whether they’re a good choice. These alternative application timelines naturally generate curiosity among high schoolers who are always on the lookout for strategies that might give them a leg up on the competition during the selective college admissions process.

There’s no doubt that applying during Early Action or Early Decision comes with some major advantages for the right students. However, it’s not so cut and dry. It’s important for high schoolers to know when opting for the earlier application timeline is a smart choice and when it’s not.

Many students are intrigued by the idea of hearing back from colleges and universities earlier regarding their admissions decisions. Despite having a higher level of competition, Early Action and Early Decision timelines tend to have higher acceptance rates. Still, there are a variety of other factors to take into account when making the smartest decision.

Here, we’ll explore the differences between Early Action and Regular Decision, the advantages and downsides of each, and some scenarios when applying during Early Action is NOT a good idea.

What’s the difference between early action and regular decision?

Colleges and universities have strict timelines for their college admissions processes. There are crucial deadlines throughout these timelines including the date submissions are accepted and, the one students dread the most, the deadline by which applicants must submit all of their materials.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, that’s not all there is to it. Schools have more than one timeline for college applications: one that’s considered standard and another that allows students to apply earlier than usual. Here, we’ll dive into the specific differences between the two.

What is Early Action?

Early Action is an earlier application timeline offered by many colleges and universities. This option gives applicants the possibility to submit all of their documents earlier than normal. Although specifics vary by institution, the submission deadline for Early Action is usually around November 1 to November 15.

Why on earth would somebody want to limit the amount of time they have to prepare their college application? That’s a great question! Other than personal preference, acceptance is a common motivating factor for students. Many schools actually accept a higher percentage of students in the Early Action round than in the standard timeline.

You’ll also come across the term Early Decision when researching Early Action and Regular Decision timelines. The primary difference between Early Decision and Early Action is that the former is binding. This means that applicants are required to accept if admitted. However, other than that, the two timelines occur roughly at the same time.  The vast majority of schools offer Early Action or Early Decision.

Generally speaking, higher-achieving students tend to apply during Early Action for a few reasons. First and foremost, these applicants are usually dead set on attending a particular school and want to take any advantage to increase their chances of acceptance. Secondly, these students also want to take advantage of the higher acceptance rates of the early admission timeline.

What is Regular Decision?

Regular Decision, as the name suggests, is the standard application timeline to which colleges require applicants to adhere. The vast majority of applicants submit their documents during Regular Decision for a few key reasons.

First and foremost, they have more time to prepare which nearly always increases the quality of an application and, as a result, a student’s chances of getting admitted. Another common reason is unfamiliarity.

Many high schoolers simply aren’t aware that applying during Early Action is a choice; thus, most opt for the standard timeline. Students who apply during Regular Decision can expect the deadline to fall around January 1, although it depends on the school to which you’re applying.

This means you’ll most likely get the highly anticipated results back in the spring, sometime between late March and early April. Since the vast majority of students apply during Regular Decision, admission rates are typically lower than during Early Action.

Want to learn more about the various application timelines? Read about Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Regular Decision

Who Should Not Apply Early Action?

When high schoolers learn about Early Action, they naturally wonder whether it’s a good choice for them. Since every applicant’s college admissions journey is unique, it’s difficult to provide a clear-cut answer to these questions.

At AdmissionSight, we’ve helped countless students get into some of the top schools in the country. For some, Early Action was the right strategy. For others, it was a hindrance to their overall goals instead of a benefit. Sometimes, knowing what you shouldn’t do is more informative than learning what you should do.

In that spirit, we’ve specified specific instances when students should NOT apply during Early Action. In these instances, the advantages of applying early might not be enough to justify the decision.

Your GPA is behind where you need it.

It’s true that colleges consider a range of factors when reviewing your application. Your academic performance isn’t the only thing that’s taken into account when deciding the date of your admission, but it’s one of the most important elements.

You are applying to college, after all! If you’re considering Early Action, but you’re grades aren’t high enough to make you a competitive applicant, you should seriously reconsider the decision. Applying during Regular Decision will provide you with invaluable time to increase your GPA.

A female student holding her head while working on a laptop.

Admissions officers look at your academic trajectory throughout high school when assessing your grades, but they can’t project improvement in the future. If your junior year grades are sub-par, forget about early decisions and take the extra semester of your senior year to focus on improving your grades.

There’s no penalty for applying during the regular timeline instead of early. Furthermore, the improvement in your GPA will look great on your application and catch the attention of admissions officers. How do you know how your grades are good enough? That’s an excellent question!

Although most colleges don’t release official stats about applicant grades, you can find accurate estimations online. If your GPA matches or exceeds the average for students at your chosen school, you’re in good standing in terms of academic performance.

You want to improve your standardized test score.

Right up there with your GPA in terms of impact on your college application is your standardized test score. The higher your scores, the better chances you have of getting into your desired school.

Although the test-optional movement has been picking up some steam over the last few years, SAT and ACT scores are still a crucial part of the admissions process. Even if your school doesn’t require applicants to submit an exam, we highly, highly advise it.

A man holding a pen and writing while being surrounded by books.

That being said, submitting just any score isn’t going to fly. You need to make sure it boosts the quality of your application overall. If you’re considering Early Action but aren’t happy with your standardized test score, it’s a good sign that you should wait for Regular Decision when you can submit a higher score.

Whether you need to try out the SAT instead of the ACT (or vice versa) or you need to work with a professional who can help you effectively prepare for the standardized tests, you should do everything you can to improve your test scores.

Similar to GPAs, schools don’t always advertise the scores of incoming students or set a threshold for applicants. You’ll have to conduct a bit of research to see how your SAT and ACT scores stack up against fellow applicants. A reliable rule of thumb is to aim for at least the 75th percentile. This won’t make you a shoo-in, but it can certainly help you stand out from the crowd.

You still have colleges to visit.

A college visit is one of the most effective ways to learn more about the schools you’re thinking of attending. If you haven’t taken a college visit by the time Early Action rolls around, or there are still some schools you want to visit before committing yourself to a school, it’s advisable to stick with the Regular Decision timeline.

When you make the most of a college visit, you’ll have a wealth of insight that can help you narrow down your list of potential colleges. Applying to schools without this key information can lead to brash decisions.

You’d hate to apply Early Action to a  school only to find out that your heart is at another university after making your college visits. We advise students to start scheduling college visits at the end of their sophomore year and the beginning of their junior year.

Various people walking in and out of a college building.

There’s no limit to how many colleges visits you can make, so you’re better off giving yourself plenty of time. Another important reason to wait to apply until you’ve attended a college visit is that it looks great on your application.

Many colleges keep track of students that demonstrate an interest in the school, and attending an official college visit is a great way to catch the attention of admissions officers. Just make sure it’s a college-sponsored visit since simply visiting the school won’t count.

Don’t live anywhere near the school you’re interested in attending? No problem! Many institutions offer virtual tours, especially following COVID. Check to see if this option is available for your school.

You haven’t started your application.

The first rule of filling out your application successfully is to give yourself plenty of time. With all of the documents you have to request from your high school, college supplement prompts you have to reply to, and papers you have to read, it’s essential for high schoolers to at least start getting ready three months in advance.

It might seem like a long time, but you’ll thank yourself later on when you’re in the midst of the preparation. Since many students don’t know about Early Action, many hear about it without having had proper time to prepare for the earlier timeline.

A man sitting in front of a laptop thinking and looking outside.

If you find yourself just a few weeks out from the Early Action timeline and you haven’t gotten started yet, don’t try and squeeze everything in at the last minute. The quality of your application will suffer, and your chances of getting into your desired university will diminish.

Admissions officers know what a rushed college application looks like. Even a few mistakes here and there can end up costing you a spot in the incoming class. Colleges aren’t just looking for qualified students.

They’re also looking for people who are organized, diligent, hard-working, and careful. A last-minute application, no matter how much time and energy you put into it, is a waste of your limited resources. If you find yourself in this situation, turn your sights towards Regular Decision and get busy with writing the best application ever!

You’re not sure you want to attend the school.

Applying during the early application timeline requires a lot of focus, time, and energy. As a high schooler balancing school, work, family, and college-related responsibilities, you need to be diligent about where you dedicate your time.

You should only undergo the extra work of submitting your application early if you’re 100% certain this is the college you’ll attend if accepted. Not only is it a considerable time investment, but applying early to some schools actually is a binding choice.

A woman looking at a computer monitor and scrolling.

That means that you’ll be compelled to attend the school if accepted during the early round. At this point, it’s important to distinguish between two different kinds of early application timeline options: Early Action and Early Decision.

Both require applicants to submit their applications and required documents earlier than normal, but the primary difference is that Early Decision is binding. As a result, it’s highly advisable not to apply during an Early Decisions timeline to a school you’re not positive about attending. Early Action doesn’t have as much riding on it but still isn’t worth it unless you’re applying to your number-one choice school.

We can help you get into the school of your choice.

If you’ve set your sights on a top-tier college, we can help you make it happen! As one of the leading college entrance experts in the country, we have the services and expertise to help you realize your academic dreams.

It’s perfectly common and natural for high schoolers to feel uncertain and stressed by the college admissions process. But you don’t have to face it alone! At AdmissionSight, we specialize in helping students better understand what admissions officers are looking for from applicants to set themselves up for success when applying to college.

We’ve spent over ten years working one-on-one with students just like you to help them increase their chances of getting into the school of their dreams. With 75% of our students getting admitted to an Ivy League school or a Top 10 university, there’s no doubt that our solutions work!

All of our services are tailored to your personal interests, academic strengths, and overall goals. Whether you need a hand choosing a summer program that’s interesting and impressive to admissions staff or you need a hand improving your college essays responses, we’ve got you covered!

If you’re interested in learning more about what AdmissionSight offers and how you can benefit, feel free to reach out to us. We’ll set up a free consultation where you can ask any questions you might have. We look forward to hearing from you!


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