College admissions offices focus on your grades and resume, but when you send the application can affect your chances as well. Many college applications are due by December or January (be sure to check the colleges’ websites for exact dates) of your senior year. That is for regular admission, which is the most common way to apply. Regular admission at most colleges means they will receive all the applications before reviewing them and then mail out acceptance letters in March or April. Some schools choose a rolling admissions process in which they will review applications as they receive them and a student should receive the decision within a few weeks of applying.
Regular admission isn’t the only option. Although you can apply early to any college by submitting your application well before the regular deadline date, there are two formal types of early applications – early action and early decision – and knowing the difference is important.
As simple as it sounds, early action means you are acting early. Early action applications are usually due between November 1 and November 15 of your senior year. They have the same requirements as regular deadline applications, but the decision is made by December or January instead of later in the spring. Once you receive an acceptance letter, you can wait to hear from the college on financial aid decisions and then make a final decision on which college to attend.The main benefit to applying early action is finding out the college’s decision earlier. This removes some of the stress from the spring and gives you more time to make your decision and prep for your transition to college.
Early decision means you are deciding early where you want to attend. Early decision applications are due between November 1 and November 15 of your senior year, receiving the decision in December or January. The main difference in early decision, however, is that the acceptance is binding.Early decision means you are committing to attend that college should they accept you, regardless of financial aid. You should only apply early decision if your test scores, grades, and activities are within the range accepted by the college. You must also be willing to pay full tuition to attend since the decision is made before finding out about financial aid. You can only apply early decision to one school, so you need to be sure that it’s your number one choice.
Applying early decision can significantly increase your chances of acceptance at some colleges. Colleges like knowing they are your number one choice, and respond to that by increasing the acceptance rate by up to 30% for those students. This gives colleges a jump-start on filling the freshman class with committed students.
Which is right for you?
It depends on your goals. If you know with certainty that you have a first-choice school, see if they have an early-decision option and take advantage of it.
If you are considering a few colleges, when you apply is completely up to you. If you have the test scores you need and can get your applications completed use early action. However, if you want to take the ACT ® or SAT ® tests one more time or need more time to polish your essay, wait and submit your application before the regular deadline. It is much better to submit a great application before the regular deadline than to submit a low-quality application early.