Is Early Action Right for Me?

A number of colleges give prospective students the option to apply early action. Early action (EA) is a non-binding program which allows students to receive admissions decisions in December rather than April.

Unlike early decision, applying early action is not a commitment to a single college. Is EA right for you?

Applying Early Action can increase your admissions chances at some colleges

One example is Tulane University, which admitted 66 percent of early applicants in 2012 and just 27 percent overall. This trend continues for a number of leading colleges, including Carleton College, where 55 percent were admitted early action and 28 percent overall.

Chart showing the difference in admission rate at various colleges depending on if the student applied early action or regular decision.

Applying early action can increase your chances of admission at certain colleges and universities. Source.

Bear in mind that EA rates can be misleading at some top colleges. Applying early to Yale appears to double your chances. However, most legacy student and athletes apply early and are more likely to be accepted–this skews the rates.

Top schools, including Stanford, insist that standards remain the same for applicants no matter when they apply.

There are three outcomes to EA.

If you apply early, your application could be accepted, deferred, or denied.

This diagram shows the process of applying to a college early action and the possible outcomes.

Workflow for applying to college early action.

The strongest EA applicants will be accepted. Usually, notification takes place in early December. Deposits are due at the normal time–typically May 1st.

Eligible applicants who aren’t accepted early may be deferred to the regular admissions pool for reevaluation. These students have the opportunity to submit additional transcripts and test scores while their application is re-evaluated.

Some colleges are more likely to defer than others. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale all defer over half of early action applicants. Stanford defers just 8.5 percent.

Students who aren’t a good fit for the college will be denied admission. Notification takes place in December.

Some colleges have single choice EA programs.

Single choice early action programs (SCEA) prevent students who participate in them from applying early to other colleges.

Generally, SCEA is offered by only highly selective colleges. These include Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. The majority of early action programs aren’t restrictive.

It’s important to clarify the EA rules with schools where you’re applying. These should be stated clearly on the application. If you’re unsure, contact the college’s admissions office.

EA isn’t for everyone

Applying EA is a sound option for prepared students. But, students who could strengthen their applications with additional grades or test scores should weigh the benefits with the costs.

Students interested in EA should research deadlines and plan in enough time to complete applications carefully and thoughtfully.