The Ivy Coach Daily

May 16, 2024

Early Decision vs. Early Action: A Guide to Early Admissions

A columned building with steps in front is featured at Harvard University.
Some schools, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT, offer Early Action. Other schools, like Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, UPenn, Cornell, Duke, and Northwestern, offer Early Decision.

Do you need to learn the difference between applying Early Decision vs. applying Early Action? If so, don’t be embarrassed, as you’re not alone. Many parents and students alike use the terms interchangeably. So, today, let’s examine which schools have Early Decision policies, which have Early Action policies, which schools have both, and what it all means for students applying to America’s elite colleges.

What is Early Decision?

Early Decision is a binding policy under which applicants commit to attending the school if offered admission. Students who apply Early Decision submit their applications typically by November 1, 2024 of their senior year in high school. For all colleges that offer Early Decision policies, applicants are only allowed to make a binding commitment to a single school.

However, students who apply Early Decision to one school may also apply Early Action to any public university. And for most colleges, students can also apply Early Action to private universities which have explicit non-restrictive policies.

As an example, Early Decision applicants to Columbia University are allowed to apply Early Action to the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and other public universities (they can also apply to the University of California schools by November 30, 2024). Additionally, they can apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago, both of which are private schools with non-restrictive Early Action policies.

Students receive their Early Decision notifications typically in mid-December. Students are either accepted, deferred, or denied. If the student is deferred in the Early Decision round, their application rolls into the Regular Decision applicant pool. If admitted through Regular Decision, usually in late March or early April 2025, the student is no longer bound to attend. If the student is denied admission in the Early Decision round, their application will receive no further review.

Early Decision II

Early Decision II applicants apply around January 1, 2025 through mid-January 2025, depending on the individual school’s ED II deadline, of their senior year of high school in conjunction with applying Regular Decision to other universities. When a student applies Early Decision II, they’re making a binding commitment to attend that school if offered admission.

What is Early Action?

Early Action is a non-binding policy under which which students submit their applications typically by November 1, 2024 of their senior year of high school. Students can apply to multiple schools Early Action, but the combination of schools they choose must be within the rules for each respective institution. Students who earn admission through Early Action, unlike through Early Decision, have until May 1 to decide which school they wish to attend. If a student does not earn admission in the Early Action round, their admission will either be deferred to the Regular Decision pool or denied.

Non-Restrictive Early Action

But not all Early Action policies are the same. Some universities offer Non-Restrictive Early Action policies, like the University of Chicago. Students applying Early Action to UChicago can also apply to a school under its binding Early Decision policy, like Dartmouth College. Of course, if they get into both their Early Decision and their Early Action school(s), they’re bound to matriculate to their Early Decision school.

Restrictive Early Action

Alternatively, there are universities that offer Restrictive Early Action policies, like the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University. Under Georgetown’s Early Action policy, for instance, Early Action applicants are allowed to apply to any other university — either through Early Action or Regular Decision — but they are forbidden from applying to a school under a binding Early Decision policy. As an example, an Early Action applicant to Georgetown cannot also apply Early Decision to the University of Pennsylvania.

Single Choice Early Action

While Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford all boast Restrictive Early Action policies, their policies are actually more restrictive than most — meriting their own category within Restrictive Early Action. These schools offer Single Choice Early Action. A Harvard Early Action applicant cannot also submit an Early Action application to Yale, Stanford, Princeton, UChicago, MIT, or Caltech (as but a few examples). A Harvard Early Action applicant cannot also submit an Early Decision application. In fact, the only Early Action applications that Early Action candidates to either Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford can submit are to public universities.

Colleges with Early Decision Policies

Best National Universities with Early Decision

Among the national universities ranked in the top 50 by US News & World Report in its 2024 college ranking, the following schools offer Early Decision policies:

College / University2024 US News Rank
University of Pennsylvania#6
Duke University#7
Brown University#9
Johns Hopkins University#9
Northwestern University#9
Columbia University#12
Cornell University#12
University of Chicago#12
Rice University#17
Dartmouth College#18
Vanderbilt University#18
Carnegie Mellon University#24
Emory University#24
University of Virginia#24
Washington University in St. Louis#24
University of Virginia#25
New York University#35
Boston College#39
Tufts University#40
Boston University#43
Lehigh University#47
University of Rochester#47
Wake Forest University#47

Best Liberal Arts Colleges with Early Decision

Among the liberal arts colleges ranked in the top 25 by US News & World Report in its 2024 college ranking, the following schools offer Early Decision policies:

College / University2024 US News Rank
Williams College#1
Amherst College#2
Pomona College#4
Swarthmore College#4
Wellesley College#4
Bowdoin College#9
Carleton College#9
Barnard College#11
Claremont McKenna College#11
Grinnell College#11
Middlebury College#11
Wesleyan University#11
Davidson College#16
Hamilton College#16
Harvey Mudd College#16
Smith College#16
Vassar College#16
Colgate University#21
Haverford College#21
Washington and Lee University#21
Bates College#24
Coby College#25
University of Richmond#25

Colleges with Non-Restrictive Early Action Policies

Among the national universities ranked in the top 50 by US News & World Report in its 2024 college ranking, the following schools offer Non-Restrictive Early Action policies:

College / University2024 US News RankEarly Action Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology#2Early Action
University of Chicago#12Early Action
University of California, Berkeley#15Single 11/30 Deadline
University of California, Los Angeles#15Single 11/30 Deadline
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor#21Early Action
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill#22Early Action
University of Virginia#24Early Action
University of California, Davis#28Single 11/30 Deadline
University of California, San Diego#28Single 11/30 Deadline
University of Florida#28Priority Applicant Round
University of Southern California#28Early Action
University of Texas at Austin#32Early Action (or Priority Deadline on ApplyTexas application)
Georgia Institute of Technology#33Early Action
University of California, Irvine#33Single 11/30 Deadline
University of California, Santa Barbara#35Single 11/30 Deadline
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign#35Early Action
University of Wisconsin – Madison#35Early Action
Rutgers University#40Early Action
The Ohio State University#43Early Action
Purdue University#43Early Action
University of Maryland, College Park#46Early Action
Texas A&M University#47Early Action
University of Georgia#47Early Action
Virginia Institute of Technology#47Early Action
Wake Forest University#47Early Action

Colleges with Restrictive Early Action Policies

Among the national universities ranked in the top 50 or the liberal arts colleges ranked in the top 25 by US News & World Report in its 2024 college ranking, the following schools offer Non-Restrictive Early Action policies.

College / University2024 US News RankEarly Action Policy
California Institute of Technology#7Restrictive Early Action
University of Notre Dame#20Restrictive Early Action
Georgetown University#22Restrictive Early Action

Colleges with Single Choice Early Action Policies

Among the national universities ranked in the top 50 by US News & World Report in its 2024 college ranking, the following schools offer a specific form of a Restrictive Early Action policy, Single Choice Early Action:

College / University2024 US News RankEarly Action Policy
Princeton University#1Single Choice Early Action
Harvard University#3Single Choice Early Action
Stanford University#3Single Choice Early Action
Yale University#5Single Choice Early Action

Benefits to Applying Early Decision or Early Action

Increased Odds of Admission

For most highly selective universities, one’s odds of getting in are significantly stronger during the school’s respective Early Decision or Early Action round of admissions. The admissions data for the Ivy League schools historically bears out this trend with Early Action or Early Decision admission rates significantly higher than the overall admission rates. As an example, for the Dartmouth Class of 2028, 17% of Early Decision applicants earned admission compared to 5.3% of overall applicants.

In short, these students show their love to the school and the school so often shows that love back to them. After all, colleges care deeply about their yields and since a significantly lower percentage of Regular Decision admits matriculate, this is a way of supercharging their yields. It’s why elite colleges so often fill over half of their seats with Early admits.

Earlier Admissions Decision

Students who apply Early typically learn of their decisions in mid-December 2024. So while their peers who chose not to apply Early or whose admission was deferred or denied in the Early round of admissions have to typically wait for a little over three more months to learn their fates, Early admits can relax.

Debunking Myths of Applying Early Decision or Early Action

If a Student Doesn’t Have a Clear Top Choice

Some people dissuade students from applying Early because they don’t want students to have to commit to attending a college so early on in the process. But that’s nonsense. At the end of the day, a student is going to have to select one school to attend. So why not select that school earlier on in the process when the odds are more in their favor? This way, they can often earn admission to their biggest reach school. And, besides, Early Action, unlike Early Decision, isn’t even binding.

Weighing Financial Aid Offers

So many students are told one of the big negatives about applying Early is that students will be unable to weigh competing financial aid offers. But every college is federally mandated to have a Net Price Calculator on their websites. Applicants can discern the precise financial aid they should expect to be awarded before applying. Thus, an applicant faces no financial disincentive from applying Early.

Early Decision vs. Early Action FAQs

Can I get out of my Early Decision commitment?

It is a binding commitment. You’re signing your name on a document. That said, every Early Decision policy contains a stipulation that if your family’s financial circumstances should change dramatically such that the college can no longer meet your financial need, you can make the rare move to renege on your commitment.

Should I apply to the biggest reach possible in the Early round?

Many students never want to wonder throughout the rest of their lives if they could have earned admission to a school and thus they apply Early Decision or Early Action to an impossible reach. It’s a bad move, because by applying to their impossible dream they not only won’t get into that school but they won’t get into the reach school they potentially could have gotten into had they earmarked that school for their Early card.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Early Decision and Early Action Applications

Need help with your Early Decision or Early Action applications? Reach out to Ivy Coach today for a complimentary college admissions consultation to learn about our services.

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