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What is the Difference Between Early Decision and Early Action?

CFNC IMAGE Early Decision Early Action

“Early decision” and “early action” college applications allow students to do exactly what the names of the applications suggest. Students submit the early applications before “regular decision” applicants and learn whether they are accepted well before the pool of regular decision applicants.

College applications may be stressful and time-consuming, and many students are anxious to get them out of the way so they can enjoy the rest of their senior year. However, before students hit “submit,” it’s important to clarify the difference between early decision and early action applications and consider carefully whether applying to college early is best for their individual circumstances.

Early Decision vs. Early Action Applications

A student who is a great fit for early action may not be the right candidate for early decision, so students should read the descriptions below carefully.

Early Decision Applications

Early decision (ED) applications are binding, meaning students who apply via early decision must enroll in the school if they are accepted. This is the key difference between early decision and early action, which is nonbinding.

Key things to understand about ED applications:

  • Students can only apply for ED to one
  • While students can apply via “regular decision” applications to other schools, they must withdraw their applications to those schools if they are accepted to the school where they applied for ED and plan to attend.
  • Because an ED application is binding, colleges typically require ED applicants to have a form signed by a parent and a school counselor stating the student understands the application is binding, and the student agrees to enroll if accepted.
  • ED applications are typically due in November. Students should check the deadline with their school of choice, as this might vary.
  • ED applicants typically receive admissions decisions in December.

Early Action Applications

Like ED, Early action (EA) applicants find out whether they’re accepted to schools earlier than regular decision applicants.

The key difference is that EA applications are nonbinding, meaning students who are accepted via EA are not obligated to enroll in the college. This allows applicants to wait for admissions responses from other schools and compare their options.

Key things to understand about EA applications:

  • Unlike ED, students can typically apply for EA to multiple schools.
  • EA is nonbinding. Unlike ED, they are not obligated to attend the school.
  • Like ED applications, EA applications are typically due in November. Students should check the deadlines for each school.
  • EA applicants typically receive admissions decisions from colleges in December or January.
  • Unlike ED, EA applicants typically have until May 1, known as National Decision Day, to formally commit to their college of choice.

Which Students Should Apply Early?

After researching the difference between early decision and early action applications, students need to decide whether applying for early acceptance is right for them.

Students should only apply for early decision applications if:

  • They thoroughly researched colleges. They should have chosen one top-choice college since ED applications are binding.
  • They understand they won’t get to compare financial aid packages offered by other schools. They’re comfortable committing to the school, knowing a different college may be more or less affordable.
  • They’re high-performing students. Their test scores, GPA, and class rank meet or exceed the minimum admissions requirements detailed on the college’s website.
  • They can adequately complete application requirements before the November deadline. Students need to give themselves ample time to respond to college essay prompts thoughtfully and give letter writers plenty of time to complete letters of recommendation. Rushing through the process to meet the ED deadline may lead to mistakes that hurt students’ chances of being accepted.
  • They’re content with their class rank and GPA as of the end of their junior year. Some students prefer to work hard during the fall semester of senior to improve their academic standing and submit regular decision applications during their second semester.

Students are a good fit for early action applications if:

  • They can adequately complete application requirements before the November deadline. Students should make sure to review essays carefully and give letter writers plenty of time to complete letters of recommendation. Rushing through the process to meet the EA deadline may lead to mistakes that hurt students’ chances of being accepted.
  • They’re content with their class rank and GPA as of the end of their junior year. Some students prefer to work hard during the fall semester to improve their academic standing and submit regular decision applications during their final semester of high school.

CFNC Helps Students Keep their Applications Organized

Whether students decide to apply to college early or join the regular pool of applicants, the College Foundation of North Carolina can help them meet important deadlines and keep their applications organized.

Use the CFNC Application Hub to apply to North Carolina colleges, send official high school transcripts, and monitor progress in a single place.

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