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Decisions, Decisions: Weighing Your Early Application Options

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

Hard to believe, but classes have started for most of my students! My seniors are excited to partake in the fun, last-year-of-high-school rituals. Fortunately, they diligently drafted personal statements and supplemental essays over the summer, so much of the college application work is behind them.

Next on my “to do” list is to discuss decision plans with applicants and their parents. By this I mean, where do they want to apply Early Action (EA) and/or Early Decision (ED)? There are basic differences between these two plans, as well as less obvious nuances to consider. It can be confusing to navigate, so I hope this post provides some clarity.

Note: check the schools on your list for specific application deadline options- not all schools offer all decision plans. Also, If you are only applying to California public universities, feel free to skip to the end of this post:)

Early Decision:

November 1 is the ED deadline at most colleges. ED is a binding commitment, which means, if you get admitted, you’re going. You will be signing an enrollment agreement and paying your deposit within a week of getting accepted (which is usually mid-December). Please be absolutely sure you want to go to this college more than any other, and never apply ED without having toured the campus.


-You get to finish and submit at least one application by November.

-Depending on the school, you may have a better chance of acceptance if you apply ED.


-Because this is a binding decision, you are only allowed to apply to ONE school ED.

-You and your family need to have college funding completely figured out before you apply ED. Either you know you are a “full pay” family and are ok with that, or you are 100% sure the college will meet your family’s financial need. You will not be able to compare your financial aid offer with those from other colleges.

-If you are counting on your excellent senior year grades to demonstrate your upward trajectory, ED is not a good plan for you. Your ED and EA schools will not take your first semester grades into consideration; they will be making a decision before you’ve even taken your semester finals.

Early Action:

This is my favorite decision plan. Most EA deadlines are early November, as well, but EA is not a binding commitment; you may apply to multiple schools EA. You will hear back by mid-December and have until May 1 to decide where you’re going.


-You get to finish and submit several EA applications by November.

-Submitting by the EA deadline qualifies you for merit scholarships at many schools.

-You will likely have a higher chance of getting admitted if you apply early.

-You will be able to compare financial aid offers.


-As with ED applications, senior fall semester grades will not be factored into a school’s decision.

Restrictive Early Action (also called Single Choice Early Action): This plan is only offered by a few of the most competitive colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, for example). It is effectively a blend of ED and EA. You apply early, you hear back early, but you don’t have to let the college know if you’re going until May 1. Why is it called “restrictive”? Because in most cases, you may not apply to any other schools ED or EA if you’re applying REA.

Early Decision 2: This is a newer binding option provided by a growing number of schools. If you are denied admission at your first ED school, you may apply ED 2 at another institution. Deadlines are typically in January (consistent with Regular Decision deadlines), but you hear back sooner than the RD candidates, and you are committing to attending that college. Unlike ED 1, your ED 2 school WILL consider your senior fall semester grades in their decision.

UC and CSU schools:

The California public university systems only have one deadline: November 30. You may submit your applications starting on November 1, but there is no discernible benefit to submitting November 1st vs. November 28th.

As always, please reach out to me at with your questions about anything college-admissions related. Good luck finishing up those applications!

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