One of the first questions many seniors will be asking this fall is whether they ought to be applying to college through some sort of early action program. I will provide a definition for the many different plans that exist and then discuss whether it may make sense for certain students.

â?¢ Early Action: The early action plans are similar to early decision plans in that applicants can learn early in the admission cycle (usually in January or February) whether a college has accepted them. But unlike early decision, most early action plans are not binding, meaning applicants do NOT have to commit to a college to which they've applied for early action. Under these plans, students may apply to other colleges. Usually, they can let the college know of their decision in the late spring or by May 1.

â?¢ Early Decision I: The early decision plan allows students to apply early (usually in November) and receive an admission decision (late December) well in advance of the usual notification date (April). Early Decision I plans are "binding," which means if students apply as early decision candidates, they agree to attend the college if accepted and offered an adequate financial aid package. Although students can apply to only one college for early decision, they may apply to other colleges under regular admission. If accepted by their early decision college, students must withdraw all other applications. Usually, colleges insist on a non-refundable deposit well before May 1.

â?¢ Early Decision II: Some schools offer a second round of early decisions, to which a student usually applies in January and is notified of results in early February. If the student is admitted, he/she is committed to attend. The student must simultaneously submit regular decision applications. A student can apply Early Decision II after being denied or deferred Early Decision I by another college.

â?¢ Single Choice Early Action: Some colleges have begun offering a new admission option called "single-choice early action." This plan works the same way as other early action plans, but with "single-choice," candidates may not apply early (either early action or early decision) to any other school. Students will learn of the decision by mid-December, but have until May 1 to make a decision, thus allowing them to compare offers of financial aid in the spring before making a commitment.

For the most part, early action makes a lot of sense. Students should apply under an early decision or action plan only if they are entirely confident that they have chosen the college they want to attend. Students should not apply under an early decision plan if they plan to weigh offers and financial aid packages from several colleges later in the spring. Also, students shouldn't apply early if it is to their advantage to have more of their senior year work to show a college. If students plan to impress an admission office with their excellent grades senior year, they may want to wait until after the first trimester ends to apply to colleges. The selectivity rate for early decision tends to be a little higher than regular (although most colleges will deny this) so borderline qualified students may have a slightly better chance for admission. This perception tends to be the most magnified by families but ought to be mitigated in light of how important other factors such as fit and cost play in the selection process.

Students often become anxious that if they are retaking standardized tests in the fall, these will not be included in an early action or early decision review. Relax. For the October administrations of the SAT (and even Nov. SAT) and ACT, families can rush the scores to their schools and they will be considered. Admission committees generally do not meet to discuss early applicants until after Thanksgiving. To be safe, students can contact their admission counselor and let them know they are sending new scores.

Questions? Email me at

This article marks the first of a series by Ryan Aldrich, providing insight into the college application process. Having worked for 12 years on both sides of the desk in college admissions and secondary school college counseling, Ryan became a certified educational planner and currently serve as director of College Counseling at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem, N.H. He has worked in admissions and counseling for 12 years at both the secondary and university levels, which encompasses four different institutions. He coaches telemark skiing and also teach psychology.


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