Early Decision and Early Action Plans allow a student to apply early (usually by November) and get an admission decision from the college well before the spring notification date. Depending on the plan, the student knows as early as December whether he or she has been accepted at the first-choice college.
Sometimes students who apply under these plans have a better chance of acceptance than they would through the regular admission process. These plans are also good for colleges because they get students who really want to go to the college to commit early in the process. The rules for these plans vary somewhat by college and students should check to understand their rights and obligations.
Early decision plans are binding. The student agrees to attend the college if accepted and if the college offers an adequate financial aid package. Although the student can apply to only one college for early decision, applying to other colleges through the regular admission process is allowed. If the student signs an agreement to attend the early-decision college and accept its aid package all other applications must be withdrawn. Hence, the opportunity to compare the aid packages from other colleges is foregone.
Many colleges offer two rounds of early decision. Typically, applications for the first round are due in November (with replies in December) and applications for the second round are due in January (with replies in February). The general rules outlined above for early-decision applications apply to each of these rounds.
The following are some of the colleges that offer early decision plans:
*Offers two rounds
Early action plans are similar to early decision plans, but are not binding. If accepted, the student can choose to commit to the college immediately, or wait until the late spring to let the college know their decision.
Some colleges have open and non-binding early action plans that allow students to apply early to other colleges and to wait until spring to reply. The following are some of the colleges that offer such plans: Cal Tech, Clark, Harvard, MIT, Tulane, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, University of Virginia and Wheaton (which also has early decision).
Boston College has non-binding early action and allows students to apply early action to other colleges but not early decision.
Some colleges have single choice early action plans that allow students to apply early action to just that school, but candidates may not apply early (either early action or early decision) to any other college. The student can still apply to other colleges under regular decision plans and is not required to give a final answer to the early-application college until the regular decision deadline. The following are some of the colleges that offer such plans: Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale.