Early Action and Early Decision (pt. II): Pros and Cons

The Pros and Cons of Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED)

So now you know about the difference between Early Action and Early Decision. But what are the pros and cons of applying under each category? In this post, the second in our three-part EA and ED series, we go over precisely that. If you want a detailed timeline for the EA/ED process, check out the third installment of our series.

Now, down to business

Pros of Early Action and Early Decision

Pro #1: Higher Acceptance Rates

There are a few theories as to why exactly these acceptance rates are higher. Sometimes schools will argue that early decision applicants are simply “more qualified.” However, “yield” (the percentage of admitted students who actually attend) is also an important factor in the US News and World Report criteria, providing schools with an incentive to accept early applicants. All ED students yield 100%, and EA applicants yield high percentages.

That said, an unqualified applicant who applies to a college early decision is almost certainly not going to get admitted.

Students who benefit from ED/EA programs generally fall into three categories:

  1. Highly qualified students applying to schools like MIT with extremely low acceptance rates.
  2. Qualified applicants at competitive schools whose apps are weak in some important area (GPA, test scores, etc.).
  3. Students with “ins” (for example, recruited athletes or legacy applicants).

Pro #2: Less Application Stress

Students who are admitted ED to their schools of choice are finished with the college process in mid-December. That’s almost 5 months before most of their peers! This allows them to relax and enjoy the rest of senior year rather than get caught up in anxiety over college selection.

Pro #3: Demonstrated Interest

By submitting early, the university understands that this is your top choice school. This can come into play especially if your application is deferred and is reconsidered in the regular application pool.

Pro #4: Security, With Options

If you are accepted as an EA applicant, you have the security of knowing you’ve been accepted, but can wait to compare financial aid packages with other schools.

The Cons of Early Action and Early Decision

Con #1: Financial Aid 

Because you are required to withdraw your applications from other colleges, as an accepted ED student you are unable to compare financial aid offers from different institutions. This can push families into situations where they assume large amounts of debt because they feel there are no alternatives. However, families are able to communicate with admissions offices to communicate that the cost of attending would be infeasible. In this case, the institution will either adjust their financial aid offer, or recommend that the student consider other college options.

EA applicants have the benefit of being able to compare financial aid offers, given that their application submissions are non-binding

Con #2: No Going Back

Students may be in a very different mindset by May than they had in November. Unfortunately, changing your mind is not an option once you’ve been accepted ED. This can put students in a serious bind if they feel they may have made the decision too soon.

Con #3: Less Time to Improve Application

It may be beneficial for some students to include senior year fall grades on their transcript, or another taking of the SAT/ACT. This is no longer possible as an ED/EA applicant. This means that the student depends upon their transcripts and activities from freshman through junior year.

Con #4: Decreased Chance of Merit Aid

Merit aid is often used as an incentive for students who may be considering other options. In the case of ED students, there is no convincing to be done: you’ve shown your hand. In this situation, the school may feel less inclined to offer the student additional merit aid.

Con #5: Rushing Your Application

If you don’t properly prepare ahead of time, the hasty submission deadlines for early applications may cause you to produce a lower-quality application than you would have otherwise. You can always rectify this in your application to other schools, but it is a factor to take into consideration months ahead of time.

These are the primary pros and cons of the Early Action/Early Decision designations. In the next edition of our EA/ED series, we go over a timeline of steps that you'll need to take in order to submit your application according to the EA/ED timeline.