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  • Bentham Admissions Team

Why Apply to Colleges Early?

Early Decision, Early Action, and why you should be the early bird

The question is, why not start early? The applicant who starts late, and by that I mean what the applicant considers to be “on time”, four weeks before the deadline, will always bitterly wish they had started the process earlier. It would obviously be preferable to get the applications out of the way well before first-semester senior finals, not to mention the holidays when most students are slaving away with their attention painfully divided.

But there are other advantages to applying early, namely the Early Decision, Early Action, and Restricted Early Action programs that colleges and universities offer, usually with a November 1 deadline, though a few even have an October 15 deadline. Early Decision and Early Action offer the student an opportunity to receive a decision much earlier, usually around mid-December. Once they get an acceptance in mid-December, students can start working with a counselor at their future alma mater and comparing financial aid packages.

And they give applicants an opportunity to demonstrate their interest and commitment to the chosen school. There’s only one disadvantage to applying early, and that’s not fully understanding what you are getting into.

Early Decision

With so many applicants applying to so many schools, colleges and universities find it hard to predict how many students who they accept will end up matriculating, and so Early Decision was born. Early Decision helps colleges determine their yield - the number of students who will accept an offer to be part of the next freshman class. It’s easy for the admissions office to say yes to a qualified applicant who knows they want to go to the school.

Your odds of admission are better if you apply Early Decision. The early decision acceptance rate at Brown, for example, is near 15%, while the overall acceptance rate is 8%. At Dartmouth, almost a quarter of those who apply early are accepted, while the overall acceptance rate is roughly 9%. A caveat here is that the most ambitious and high-performing applicants usually apply early, which is part of why the early decision acceptance rate is so high.

You can only apply Early Decision to one college or University. It is offered by most private schools - state schools opt for Early Action, which we’ll discuss below. When you apply Early Decision, you are committing yourself to that institution if you are accepted. Only under very limited circumstances, such as an inability to pay the tuition, are you released from an Early Decision commitment. For this reason, some students are reluctant to apply Early Decision, even though the odds of getting in are more favorable. They have not yet fully researched the colleges and universities, and are reluctant to commit.

Because Early Decision is an advantage, decide with confidence where you want to go (a list of four to six schools) before the fall of your senior year. Not only will this allow you to apply Early Decision, but it will also spare you the expense of time and money that goes into applying to ten or fifteen schools because you just don’t know what you want. If you apply to that many schools, it will be a case of diminishing returns: you will not be able to write all of those essays well, and so you will end up doing a subpar job on most of the applications… So why do it?

Early Decision II

Many schools also offer the option of Early Decision II. If you are not accepted at your first choice school, you can still gain a small advantage by applying EDII at another school. The deadline for EDII is early January, the same as Regular Decision. Remember that EDII is also binding.


Early Action, which is mostly offered by state schools and super-selective schools that are pretty sure you will accept the offer to enroll, means that you apply early and get a decision early, but you are not committed to attending that school. Schools offer EA early for the same reason - to help determine their yield by getting acceptance letters out early, but it doesn’t help them determine their yield nearly as much as ED does, so the advantage, in terms of acceptance, is less significant. Bear in mind that Early Action can be EARLY. This year the EA deadline for Georgia Tech and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, was Oct. 15.

Make sure you establish the Early and Regular Admissions deadlines before you start the application process, preferably at the end of your Junior year.


Certain highly prestigious schools, like Harvard, also offer Restricted Early Action, or REA. REA means you can’t apply early to other schools, though many REA schools only restrict you from applying early to other private institutions. This means you can still apply EA to as many public universities as you wish. Read the fine print carefully when looking at the restrictions and deadlines of REA at a particular school. Competition for REA slots is extremely competitive, so don’t apply unless you are a truly exceptional applicant.


The binding nature of early decision means agreeing to accept whatever financial aid package the school offers. Successful ED applicants won’t have the ability to compare financial aid offers from different schools, so you must understand the cost of the institution you’re applying to, and whether you can afford it, before you apply ED. On the other hand, students who apply EA will be able to consider aid packages from their Early Action and Regular Decision schools.

In short, Early Decision benefits you if you have a clear idea of where you want to go, and you know you can manage the tuition. Early Action should be your choice (or another choice, as you can do both) if you want to go to a state university, you haven’t made up your mind where you want to go, or you want schools to compete for you in terms of financial aid packages. There are a lot of moving pieces here. If you want help, you might want to talk to someone at Bentham Admissions.


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