Early Action vs Early Decision

By David Wolinsky · August 15, 2023 · 5 minute read

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Early Action vs Early Decision

If you have your heart set on going to a certain college, you may want to consider applying to that school either early decision or early action. What’s the difference?

Both early action and early decision let an admission’s office know you are interested in attending that school (over its competitors). However, there are some key differences.

If you apply early decision and are accepted, you must attend that college. If you apply early action, on the other hand, you’ll get an early response to your application but your acceptance is nonbinding — and you have until May 1 to decide whether or not you want to go.

Three are pros and cons to each option. Here’s what you need to know about early decision vs. early action.

Understanding Early Action and Early Decision

Early action and early decision are college application options that allow you to find out earlier than usual whether or not you’ve been accepted to the school.

Early action simply means that you apply and receive a decision well in advance of the institution’s regular response date, while early decision means you are making a commitment to a first-choice school and, if admitted, you will definitely enroll and withdraw all other applications.

Translated into simpler terms, early decision binds a student to attend a specific school while early action lets applicants know earlier if they’ve been admitted. While you can only apply to one school early decision, you can apply to multiple schools early action.

It’s worth noting that not all schools offer both options. Also, the rules regarding early action may vary from one school to another. At some universities, applicants who apply via the early action method are also expected not to apply early action at other schools, too.

💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Pros and Cons of Applying Early to College

Early decision and early action admissions both offer benefits. One reason some students opt to apply early is to firm up admission before the usual deadlines. If accepted early to the school of your choice, you can relax and focus on enjoying your last year of high school. You also have time to prepare well in advance to move to a specific area or attend that specific school.

Other advantages include being able to fill out fewer college applications and having time to apply elsewhere if you are not granted admission to your top school.

Also, if you apply early decision and don’t get accepted to your chosen school, that school may defer your application and reconsider it as part of the general application process. This gives you another shot at getting in.

On the downside, applying to a school early decision comes with a lot of pressure, since the decision will be binding. And, if accepted, you won’t be able to compare financial aid offers with other schools and select the one that works best with your budget. You will simply have to accept the aid package offered by that school.

Although early decision is generally binding, it’s possible — though not usually advisable — to break that agreement if your financial circumstances change and you need to rethink attending a specific school.

Applicants who back out of an early decision acceptance for non-financial reasons may need to pay a fine, and also run the risk of ruining their reputation at that school and potentially at other colleges.

Recommended: How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

Making a Decision about Early Decision

There are some critical distinctions between early action and early decision. While not all schools have early action and early decision options when applying, those that do will typically let you choose between one or the other.

Early decision is, typically, binding. If an applicant gets accepted via this method, they’re committing to attending that specific school (and, by extension, committing to withdrawing their name from consideration at other schools).

Early action is, typically, nonbinding. Students may be able apply early action to multiple colleges, but some schools have more restrictive early action policies.

Early admission, when nonbinding and non-exclusive, allows students to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools. After all, in many early action applications, a final decision to commit need not be made until spring (and students can still apply regularly to other universities).

With early decision, however, you won’t have the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from competing schools.

Early decision is generally recommended for students who are:

•   Informed about the colleges they’re applying to

•   Crystal-clear about their first choice school

•   Able to demonstrate a solid academic record before senior year.

Recommended: Ultimate College Application Checklist

Paying for College

Regardless of whether you apply early action, early decision, or regular decision, paying for college is likely front of mind. While some families are able to cover the cost of college through existing funds and assets, numerous applicants (and their parents) also seek out financial aid.

The term “financial aid” refers to funding that doesn’t come from the applicant’s (or their family’s) savings and income. Financial aid is available from federal and state governments, educational institutions, and private groups. It can be awarded in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

To apply for financial aid, you simply need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This information is sent to schools you apply to. If accepted, you will receive a financial aid award letter from that school, which will provide information on the cost of attendance for the academic year and detail any grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, and federal loans you are eligible to receive.

If your financial award isn’t enough to cover the full cost of college, you also have the option to apply for private student loans. These are offered through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

It’s important to note that government loans come with certain built-in federal benefits that private loans do not guarantee — including income-driven repayment plans and, when eligible, public service student loan forgiveness.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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