Tips for Parents

Early Decision vs. Early Action

Some students know all along what university they want to attend. If your high school student once wore a onesie with the same college logo as the hoodie she sports now, chances are good that her heart is set on attending that school. If so, early decision or early action admission might be for her.

Through these plans, students apply and find out about acceptance early in their senior of high school by December or January. Besides benefitting those students who plan on only applying to one school, these plans also help students applying to competitive or Ivy League schools. As many as 40 percent of freshmen admitted to Ivy League schools are early admission applicants.

Choosing one of these plans will grant you and your student more time to plan for college and in some cases secure financial aid, as well as relieve the stress of the second semester of her senior year.

The differences between each early admission plan are distinctive. Make sure your student understands the benefits and obligations of each before applying.

Early Decision

Early Decision acceptance is binding. In other words, if the school accepts your student and offers an adequate financial aid package, your student must attend. If she can’t attend the school due to finances, the burden of proof is on your student. And because the decision is binding, this path leaves no leverage to negotiate a better financial package, because the student has already committed to the school.

Students may apply to only one university for early decision, but may apply to others through the regular admissions process. If accepted by Early Decision, all other applications must be withdrawn. If not accepted or rejected, students may be deferred, which means their application will be considered again — sometimes with the regular admission applications — and in this case, they will be released from the binding agreement.

If your student reneges on an Early Decision offer, her other applications will be tainted, because schools honor each others’ binding agreements.

Early Action

Early Action acceptance is not binding. Students who are accepted via this plan may commit to attending the school immediately or in the Spring, with the regular decision deadline. Students may apply Early Action to as many universities as they want, unless the school only offers a Single-Choice Early Action. In that case, students may only apply to other schools through the regular admissions process.

Because students can wait until Spring to commit to the university, the Early Action plan allows students to compare and negotiate financial packages among schools.

Steps for Early Admission

If your student would benefit from one of these options, preparing to apply begins junior year of high school. Check with university’s application process and deadlines for specific details, but consider the following timeline as a general guideline.

Junior year

Fall semester: Take pre-AP, AP and honors classes that will bulk up college applications and provide preparation for standardized tests. However, also consider classes that will help maintain a high GPA.
Spring semester: Again, strategically select courses. Take standardized tests, like ACT and SAT. Visit colleges to narrow down prospective schools, if your student is considering more than one.

Senior year

Fall semester: Complete early decision/early action applications with letters of recommendation from teachers in September and October. If re-taking the SAT test, your student can’t take the test after October to have scores available in time for early decision/early action programs.

Spring semester: Your student will know by January the status of her early admission application. Many regular admission deadlines are early in the spring semester, so those should generally be completed and submitted by February.

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