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You've probably heard that it's possible to apply to college early. Maybe you've heard that it's easier to get in that way. But when you dug deeper, you found a lot more than "early decision" – you found Early Action, Early Decision 1, Early Decision 2, and something called Single Choice Early Action, whatever that is.
In recent years, the majority of selective colleges and universities in the United States have added some kind of early admission program, though these programs can vary significantly across schools. Here, we'll talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how they'll affect your college admissions process and decision making. In particular, we'll parse:
Whether to Apply ED1, ED2, or Early Action might be the single most important part of your college application process. Using it to your advantage could substantially increase the likelihood of admission to your top choice school.
Let's focus on Early Decision (1 and 2) first. The most important feature of both Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2 is that you are completing an application that will commit you to that college if the college accepts you. As part of your application, you will sign an early decision agreement that "binds" you to attend if admitted.
For that reason, you can only apply Early Decision at a single college at a time. If you are accepted to a school Early Decision 1 or Early Decision 2, you will have to withdraw any other applications you have submitted. If you are rejected, you are released from your agreement to attend if accepted. A deferral will also release you from your ED1 or ED2 agreement; although your application will be reconsidered in the regular applicant pool, if admitted after a deferral, you will not be obligated to attend.
The advantage of applying Early Decision (ED) is that acceptance rates for ED applications are sometimes two to three times higher than the Regular Decision admission rates at the same schools. For instance, Northwestern's overall acceptance rate is only 9%, but its early decision rate is closer to 25%. Johns Hopkins University's jump is even bigger, from 9% to 31%. And the early decision rates at schools like Washington University in St. Louis, Emory University, and Tufts University are all multiple times the regular decision admission rate.
Why is this? The reasons are multifaceted, but in general they come down to two major factors: yield rate and selectivity:
Introducing Early Decision can have a huge impact on a college's selectivity. The University of Chicago had admission rates upward of 40% in the 1990s, and didn't have Early Decision. Now, it has Early Decision 1 and 2, and an admission rate of below 6%.
As much as there are a number of key similarities between Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2, there are also some crucial differences to keep in mind:
In short, ED2 is a second chance at an Early Decision application, whether because you were not admitted to your first-choice college ED1, or because external factors prevented you from applying ED1 (a sports schedule, poor first quarter grades, etc.). In the former case, that means students will apply both ED1 and ED2, but to different schools.
Early Action programs, on the other hand, are non-binding; they simply give applicants a chance to apply to the school and get an earlier response. However, because Early Action is not binding, it tends to give less of an admissions bump than Early Decision. There are two types of Early Action that are important to know about:
Below find answers to some of the most common questions about applying early.
That depends on whether you'll be applying ED1, ED2, EA, or SCEA!
Almost all public schools offer Early Action, as do some larger private schools. Examples include: University of Michigan, Northeastern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University, University of Richmond, and more.
SCEA is much less common. The schools that offer Single-Choice Early Action are: Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Baylor University.
The majority of private schools offer at least one of Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2. These include universities like Tufts University, Boston University, Vanderbilt University, and Emory University; liberal arts colleges like Colby, Hamilton, Swarthmore, and Middlebury; and even some public schools, including the University of Virginia.
You can withdraw or change the status of your early application at any time before an admissions decision is reached. For some students, this might be withdrawing their application if they've had a change of heart, although they should be aware that this will be a red flag for colleges and likely decrease the applicant's chances in regular decision at that school.
Withdrawing your application after a decision has been made is much harder. It is possible for students to back out of their early decision agreement if they can convincingly show that it is not possible for them to attend under the financial aid package that was offered.
You do not need to apply Early Decision 1 in order to apply Early Decision 2. Colleges say that they offer Early Decision 2 for students whose schedules prevent them from applying ED1 to their first-choice school. However, the primary reason that students apply ED2 is because they were deferred or rejected from their top-choice school.
In either scenario, if there's another school you're excited about, it makes sense to apply Early Decision 2 instead of waiting to hear back about your deferred application and taking a chance on those ever-diminishing regular decision rates. Although the Early Decision 2 admission rate is not as high as Early Decision 1, it can still provide a hugely beneficial bounce.
Be careful, though: not all schools that offer ED1 also offer ED2. Be sure to research in advance what schools have an ED2 option, or check with your college counselor.
There is a persistent myth that early decision applicants can't get merit aid from colleges because colleges use merit aid to increase their yield, which isn't applicable to early decision applicants. While it's true that colleges use merit aid to attract strong students, it is absolutely possible to receive merit aid from a school if you apply early decision.
Getting deferred isn't the same as getting rejected. A deferral means that your application goes back into the pile with the rest of the regular decision applicants. If you applied Early Decision 1 and got deferred, you are released from your commitment to attend if admitted.
How likely you are to be admitted after deferral varies greatly by school. But in general, deferral from an Early Action or Early Decision application means you won't benefit from the early bump, where it exists. That doesn't mean you can't get in, but know that you're now at the mercy of the regular decision admission rate. In this scenario, it's always a good idea to at least consider applying Early Decision 2 somewhere else.
Yes! Even if you apply Early Decision 1, before first quarter is over at most high schools, colleges are likely to request a "mid-term report" from your school counselor to check on your grades. The same is true for Early Decision 2 and Regular Decision applicants; schools will ask for your mid-semester grades, even if the term isn't officially over. No matter what decision deadline you apply for, make sure you're keeping your senior year grades up!
All forms of early action and early decision are indicated in the Common Application, or whatever other interface you use to apply to colleges. If you select Early Decision 1 or Early Decision 2 in the Common Application, you'll also have to submit an early decision agreement, which will also be signed by your school counselor and your parents/legal guardians, stating that you understand the binding nature of early decision and promise to abide by it.