Getting a Head Start: Early Applications

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

Let’s face it: there are a lot of deadlines to keep track of when applying to colleges. But the most important date to know is when your application is due. For most schools, this is probably sometime in January or February. But there are a few alternatives to the regular application deadlines: Early Decision and Early Action.

Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) is the earliest you can apply for a school, with deadlines usually in November and decisions released in December or January. Not every school offers ED, but if they do it means that, if you apply ED, you are promising to attend that school if they accept you. This can be a great option if you know for sure what school you want to go to, but ED can be a bit tricky. While you’re allowed to apply to other schools by the regular decision (RD) deadline, if you are accepted ED you must withdraw all of your other RD applications. This means that you won’t be able to compare financial aid packages or change your mind if you find another school you like better. 

Early Action

Unlike ED, Early Action (EA) is not binding. You either apply early or on the RD deadline, but you hear back before the RD decisions are released, probably in January or February. This is a good option if you want to avoid the stress of waiting until March to hear back, but you still want to compare financial aid packages at different schools. 

Why apply early

Early deadlines can really cut down on the stress from waiting to hear back from schools, but it’s important to know that you can usually only apply to one school early. Deciding which to apply to can be tricky, but think of it this way: If you apply to ten schools, and you get into all of them, which would you choose to go to? Your top school should be the one that you apply early to, since it’s the one you’d want attend anyways. 

Some ED schools also respond to you before the RD deadline. This means you can save a lot of money on application fees if you apply ED to one school and wait to send in RD applications depending on whether or not you get into your ED school. 

Drawbacks of ED and EA

As mentioned, applying ED means you can’t compare financial aid packages, which can make it difficult if you get into your ED school but they don’t offer you enough financial aid. There can also be a lot of pressure to decide which school you should apply early to, and finish your applications two or more months before the RD deadline. 

If you think ED or EA is right for you, go for it! Just be sure to stay on top of all of the components of your application so you can be ready in time. And take the time to compare all of the schools you’ve looked at to make sure you choose your favorite for ED or EA.