Early Decision vs. Early Action: Everything You Need to Know

Erin Pettus / Colleges of Distinction »

Early decision and early action are two distinct methods by which you can submit an early college application. Keeping up with due dates and deadlines throughout the college application process can be a little overwhelming. Not only do application deadlines vary from school to school, but many schools also have multiple deadlines for the same program.

For these 450+ colleges, students may choose to submit their application on the basis of regular decision, early action, or early decision. Most of the schools you apply to will be through the standard “regular decision” timeline, which typically asks you to submit everything by January 1 so that you can be reviewed among all the other applicants and learn about whether you were admitted in March, April, or May.

Let’s pick apart the differences between early action and early decision to help you decide if either of these options are right for you on your quest to enroll in college early with plenty of time left to round out your senior year of high school.

What is Early Decision

Applying early decision is a binding agreement to attend the university if you’re accepted and the financial aid package is acceptable to you. If you have an absolute top-choice school, this is a great way to show the school that they’re your top-choice. 

What does the timeline for early decision look like?

The same as early action, early decision means sending in your application earlier, usually October-November instead of closer to the regular deadline of January 1. 

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Is Early Decision Binding? 

Applying early decision means you are saying that you will go to that school if you are accepted. You can only apply early decision to one school, so make sure it’s your top choice!

After you receive your early decision, what does the process look like?

Once you are accepted through early decision, you can start packing for college! There is no reason to wait to hear from other schools or wait until May 1.

Pros and Cons of Early Decision


Applying early decision has an increased acceptance rate especially at highly selective institutions. If you have one school you are especially interested in, you can reduce the number of applications you have to fill out and send to other schools. The timeline is also bumped up, so you hear back sooner rather than later!


When you apply early decision, you have to make sure you know your number-one school. You can only apply early decision to one institution and, if you’re accepted, you must withdraw your applications from any other schools you applied to.

What is Early Action

When you’re applying for colleges, one option when submitting your applications is to apply early action. If you have a top-choice school in mind, early action is a good non-binding option. Getting accepted early action does not commit you to that institution; it just means that your application is one of the first to be reviewed at that school.

What does the timeline look like for early action?

Early action simply means that you send in your application earlier than normal, usually in October or November instead of the regular deadline of January 1. Applying early action also means that you’ll hear back about your acceptance early, usually in January instead of March to May. 

Is Early Action Binding?

Early action is non-binding. This means that you can still apply regular admission to other institutions you’re interested in. This gives you extra time to consider your options, financial aid and otherwise, at other institutions. Even though you will send in and hear back from your early action school first, you still have until May 1 to decide whether or not you want to go to your top-choice school or one of the others you’ve been accepted to. 

After you receive your early action decision, what does the process look like?

Applying early action does not change the rest of the process. Whether you’ve been accepted, rejected, or deferred, the rest of the admissions process is virtually the same apart from the time of year that decisions are made.

Pros and Cons of Early Action


One advantage of applying early action to your top-choice school is that you’ll know whether or not you’re accepted before hearing back from the other schools you applied to. Even when you apply early action, you still have until May 1 to make your decision.

That said, if you get into your top choice early, you don’t have to bite your nails in anticipation through the end of your high school career.


When considering applying early action, you should also consider the time commitment and requirements involved. Make sure you check the application requirements and deadlines for that specific institution.

Even if you meet all of the requirements and are able to get your application in on time, also consider that the candidate pool for early action applications can be stronger than the general applications submitted, putting you in tougher competition.

Early action and early decision are both useful plans for any students who have a number-one college in mind or who wants to plan adequately ahead before the end of high school draws near.

Make sure to weigh your college options and ensure that your quickly submitted applications will be brushed up and strong enough. Not yet sure what your number-on school is? Check out all the schools we trust and find your perfect fit.