Early Action and Early Decision (pt I): Basics of EA and ED

The Difference between Early Action and Early Decision

"Are you applying early action?" "Early decision?" If you're preparing to apply to college, it's a safe bet that you've heard these terms thrown around. But what do they mean? In this post, we're going to cover the basics of these two application designations. This post is the first in a three-part series. In part two, we go over the pros and cons of Early Action and Early Decision; in part three, we give a detailed timeline for submitting Early Action and Early Decision applications. 

Early Action v. Early Decision

Early Action

Many schools offer the option of early action. This means that you apply earlier than the regular deadline and find out earlier whether or not you got accepted. The most common deadlines for early action are November 1 and November 15.

These deadlines are rigid: you must send all your materials, including recommendation letters and test scores to the school by the stated deadline. Given that you apply early, you'll also be notified of the admissions decision early. The most common notification is in mid-December, so you should find out whether you were accepted, denied, or deferred before holiday break.

Early Decision

Unlike early decision, early action is non-binding. You have until the national response deadline of May 1 to tell your school whether you'll attend or not. That means you can still compare admissions and financial aid offers from other colleges, even if you applied to them regular decision, before accepting an offer and sending your deposit.

The possibility of having your application deferred is unique to applying early. If the early applicant pool is particularly competitive, then the admissions committee might push your application into the regular decision pool and review it again in January or February. If you get deferred and are very interested in the school, then there may be ways to strengthen your application before the next round. If this is your situation, you could call the admissions office and inquire.

However, if you are deferred, this is the perfect time to re-focus your attention on and get excited about all the other interesting colleges on your list.

Up next: the pros and cons of Early Action and Early Decision.