You’ve put together your list of dream, match, and safety schools, and there's one on there that makes your heart beat a little faster. Should you prove your love by applying early?


Many colleges allow applicants to submit their materials for an early deadline (sometime in the fall) that falls before the regular deadline (usually sometime in January or February).

Advantages of applying early

  • First, applying early lets your favorite school (or schools) know that you are serious about attending. Schools track how many applicants accept their offers of admission and release those numbers to the public. A school looks good when a high percentage of accepted applicants chose to attend. So if they think you're likely to accept their offer of admission, it may give your application a leg up.
  • Second, if you are accepted to your dream school, you won't have to bother with the time and expense of applying elsewhere. You can put your focus back on right now instead of one year from now.

Some students and high school counselors believe that applying early decision gives them better odds of acceptance, but the truth is early acceptance rates and admissions standards vary from school to school. You can find early decision application numbers and acceptance rates for many schools in our Best Colleges book, and don’t be afraid to ask an admissions counselor at your dream school directly about their early admission practices.

There is a (potential) disadvantage to applying early, however. You may not have the opportunity to compare financial aid packages offered by other schools.

Early Action vs Early Decision

Most schools allow you to apply early in one of two ways: early decision or early action.

Early decision is binding. This means if you are accepted through early decision, you are committed to attending that school, and will withdraw any applications you may have submitted for the regular deadlines at other schools. You may not apply to more than one college under early decision. If you are not accepted, you will either be rejected or deferred. Rejected applicants may not apply again that year. Deferred applicants will be reconsidered during the regular admission period, and are free to apply to other schools.

Early decision deadlines are often in November, and students are typically notified of the decision in December.

Early action is non–binding. This means you are not bound to attend if you are accepted. You may also apply early action to multiple colleges. Early action deadlines usually fall at the same time as early decision..

The obvious advantage of early action over early decision is the opportunity it gives you to apply to, and ultimately compare financial aid packages from several schools. If you are accepted early decision, you risk missing the admission deadlines of other schools while you wait for your award package to arrive. If that award is lackluster, your options are fewer.

Our Advice

If you’re sure that you’ve found your best-fit school, you know it’s one you want to attend, you’re a strong candidate for admission, and you know that you can afford the tuition, go ahead and apply early decision.

That is a whole lot of research and comparison to have done by fall of your senior year, though, and if you’re uncertain about any of those factors, you’re not alone! Keep your options open by applying early action, or by the regular deadline.