College Counseling Corner

Early Action vs. Early Decision

By Sarah Soule

Nov. 1, 2012 is a popular day in the world of college admissions. It is the typical date for early decision or early action at most colleges and universities across the country and many area seniors are busily preparing their applications to meet the deadline. The common question I am asked by the students I work with is, “Should I apply early?”

Students often wonder if submitting an early application will help their chances of gaining admission, especially at a highly competitive institution. Early decision is a fine program for a student who has a solid high school academic transcript and is prepared to enroll at the college or university to which they are applying. If accepted early decision, a student must enroll as there is no turning back; early decision is binding and it means a firm commitment to attend. By admitting a selected number of students early decision, colleges and universities are able to secure a portion of their enrollment for the following year by mid-December.

If an applicant is fully committed to a college or university and has visited numerous campuses and is entirely sure that said institution is his or her top choice, then early decision is a good option. Early decision enables a student to hear within a month of submitting the application if they have been admitted. Once they receive the news, and if it is in the affirmative, done deal…jump for joy, you’re in! However, all students who apply early decision must consider all other options, too, as nothing is assured. If a student fails to gain admission or is deferred, meaning a decision on their application won’t be made until mid-March, then they have to have other applications ready to submit as the approaching deadlines are typically in early to January.

A disadvantage of early decision is that the student, and their parents, are then only able to see one financial aid package. If a student applies via regular decision to multiple colleges, they are able to weigh numerous offers of financial aid and potentially have a better financial aid offer elsewhere.

Early action is a program that allows students to apply early without the commitment of early decision. A decision is made by mid-December, but the student does not have to notify the college or university until May 1.

Some, not all, colleges and universities will either defer or deny students via the early decision or early action program. A defer means that they believe the student has potential but they want additional grades or other information before making the final decision. A denial equates to a reject and is based on the applicant’s academic record and overall profile. The student is notified that they are no longer being considered by the college and have been removed from the applicant pool.

Of note, the University of Vermont’s early action program is a great option for area students as they do not charge an application fee for Vermonters if they submit their applications by the Nov. 1 due date. Further details can be found on the UVM website:

Early decision and early action due dates are fast approaching and students should check the dates and variables surrounding these programs on college websites. Good luck!

Sarah Soule has 30 years of experience working in the field of college and independent school admissions. She currently serves as the Director of College Counseling at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington and has been quoted in the Princeton Review’s A Portable Guidance Counselor. She also advises individual students on the college admission process.

One thought on “College Counseling Corner

  1. As a private college counselor, I think this is some great college advice for high school seniors. Many get confused by all the admissions deadlines and you helped to clarify the difference between early action and early decision.

    College Direction
    Denver, Colorado

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