Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision -- from my Sept. 2016 article in The American magazine
With autumn now upon us, students applying to US Colleges need to get cracking! There is a lot to get done: final SAT or ACT tests to take, applications to fill out, teacher recommendations to request, and essays to write. But did you know about the different types of admission -- Early Decision, Early Action or Regular Admission? It’s important to note the differences and consider the reasons which might be the best option for you.
Let’s first look at Early Decision. With this option, you apply to only one school, with the deadline much earlier than the rest -- typically in October. Early Decision applications are the ideal choice if you have thoroughly researched schools and found your ‘dream school,’ one that you would have no qualms about attending. If accepted, you find out in December (before Regular Decision applications are even due) and the offer is binding – i.e., you must accept it. The upshot is you have the freedom to relax, knowing that the application process is complete and your school place is secured. Another benefit of applying Early Decision is it enhances your chances of being accepted at your school of choice. The downside is the need to have all testing, essay writing and teacher recommendations requested done by October. Also, there is no guarantee you will be accepted and may need to apply to other schools as well.
Early Action is similar to Early Decision in that you can only apply to one school. Similarly, you find out if you’re accepted earlier that Regular Decision, but not as early as Early Decision – more typically in January or February. The difference is then if you are accepted, you need not decide straight away whether or not to accept the offer. If fact, you can still apply to other schools using Regular Admissions and await their acceptance or rejections before committing to the Early Action school. Again, the earlier deadline for applications can be off-putting if you aren’t ready or are unsure of which school you might like.
Then, of course, there is Regular Decision. If you are either uncertain of which school you’d like to attend, or are deferred or rejected by your Early Decision/Early Action school, you can still apply, usually by January, to any number of schools. The benefit of this is the added time for retaking tests and working on essays, as well as determining potential schools. The downside is the applicant pool against which you are competing will be that much greater, making it more difficult at some schools to gain a place. Offers are typically made late March/early April.
Please note that these are guidelines only – do check with individual schools for precise dates!