Question: Are International Students eligible to apply for Early Actions in US colleges? And if they are, then is it beneficial to them in any case?
Up until last year, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was the only university on The Dean's “radar screen" that did NOT allow international students to apply via Early Action. However, MIT has reversed that policy and now permits international applicants to apply via EA.
There may, however, be other colleges out there that I'm not aware of that don't let international candidates choose any Early option or that accept Early applications only from international students who aren't applying for financial aid. So, if you hope to be an “Early bird" yourself, do read Web sites carefully to make sure that there are no restrictions that apply to you.
Early Action (and, especially, Early Decision, where offered) can be VERY beneficial to international students. Although colleges don't set specific quotas for the number of candidates they admit from foreign countries, admission officials do like to promote diversity by accepting applicants from a range of different places and thus not too many from a single nation. Therefore, qualified international students who apply Early can take those spots from equally qualified students who wait until the Regular Decision round.
Early Decision—which, unlike Early “Action," requires a “binding" commitment–is an especially good idea for international applicants because the college folks know that an admitted ED student is almost a “sure-thing" and this can boost acceptance odds. (I say “almost" because an Early Decision candidate who is admitted but doesn't receive sufficient financial aid can decline the offer of admission without penalty.)
However, make sure that you heed the Early “rules." For instance, some colleges offer a “Single-Choice" Early Action option that puts limits on where else students can apply Early. Similarly, Early Decision candidates can also apply to Early Action colleges that permit concurrent ED/EA applications (and most do), but cannot aim for more than one ED college at a time.
As I said at the start, “The Dean" is not aware of any college or university that still prohibits Early applications from international candidates, but I'll post this on the College Confidential Web site with the hope that CC members will jump in to correct me, as needed!