Early Decision vs. Early Action vs. Regular Decision

College application season is in full swing, and many students are considering early decision and early action options. With several different admittance programs available, it can be beneficial to review the benefits of each one.

early college admission versus other admission options

  • Early Action – This is the program that is much more appealing than early decision because it is not binding. Students can apply to several colleges under their early action deadlines and not have to make a final decision until the spring. Early action gives students the possibility of finishing up their college application process much earlier, all while still having their options open. Schools with Early Action programs include Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. Most schools have an early action deadline of 11/1.
  • Early Decision – In this program, you are allowed to apply to one school under the Early Decision policy. The biggest drawback to Early Decision is that it is a binding agreement stating that if you do get admitted, you agree to attend that school and must opt out of all other schools you were planning on applying to. Though this can be appealing for a student who has dreamed of going to the University of Pennsylvania since they were 5, it might not be suitable for someone who still isn’t sure as to where they want to go. Regardless, admission rates are much higher for early decision and early action than regular decision. For example, in 2013 the University of Pennsylvania admitted 12.1% of its applicants through regular decision, yet a whopping 25% through the Early Decision program. Though the difference in admission rates is staggering, the difference in financial aid is just as astonishing. Financial aid award letters are also often much smaller for Early Decision students than they are for Regular Decision because they don’t have to compete with other schools for your enrollment. Most schools have an early decision deadline of 11/1.


  • Regular Decision – The “normal” process is to begin to apply to schools in late November and December and expect to hear a decision before April 1st. The Cal State application opens 10/1 and the UC application opens 11/1, with the deadline for both being 11/30. Students can apply to as many schools as they want, and if admitted, must accept enrollment by May 1st.


  • Rolling Admission – This program offers students a large window of time to apply, and within a couple of weeks of application submittal, the college will notify you of your admission status. Rolling admission schools are often not as selective as schools that offer Early Action or Early Decision, and will keep the application period open until there is no more space in their incoming freshman class available. Schools with Rolling Admission programs include Arizona State University, Butler University, and Purdue.


  • Open Admission – This kind of program allows anyone, usually over 18 or with a high school diploma, to enroll and be admitted. Community colleges and for-profit colleges are the best examples of schools with Open Admission.

Our college planning professionals are standing by and always available to aid you and your children in this process. We’re here to help your family get as much information as possible in an effort to facilitate a smooth transition from high school to college.

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