Application and Essay Tips

The Scoop on Early Action, Early Decision and Rolling Admissions

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If you're a high school senior, you have probably discovered by now that admissions time isn't as simple as just sending in a college application and awaiting the response. Besides the typical admission process (often referred to as Regular Decision), there are also other types of admission processes to consider, such as Early Action, Early Decision and Rolling Admissions. Which kind of college application works best for you? Read on to find out the ins and outs of these college admission decisions.

Early Action


Early Action can be a great option for many students because there is really no risk. With Early Action, you need to be organized enough to submit your application in time to meet the deadline. If you are admitted, you don't need to make a decision until May 1, National College Commitment Day.

“Many colleges strongly recommend that students apply EA; it shows interest in the institution and often large merit scholarships are awarded to those accepted early,” says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, co-founder and director of One-Stop College Counseling in Marlboro, N.J. “There are no real cons to applying EA, unless the student rushes their application and submits sloppy work. The one exception might be if a student had an atypical end to junior year (grade-wise) and wants to wait until Regular Decision so they can submit their first semester senior year grades to demonstrate stronger academics.”

Early Decision

Early Decision is a bit trickier than applying Early Action because it represents a binding decision. You should not apply Early Decision unless you are absolutely certain that is the college you want to attend and you believe that your financial situation will allow you to attend the institution no matter what.

The largest disadvantage to Early Decision for you as a student is that you will not be able to weigh financial aid packages from multiple colleges to determine not only what college is the best fit for you, but which college will ultimately be the least costly.

“ED requires applicants to withdraw all other applications after acceptance, and students lose the opportunity to conduct a financial analysis and college comparison,” Weingarten says. Family income can have a lot to do with whether or not Early Decision is a good choice.

“If we are talking about a low income family at a school that meets 100 percent of need, it's probably not an issue; the same goes for a family that can easily pay $70,000 per year and doesn't mind doing so. But for everyone in the middle, it is more problematic,” says Stacey Cunitz, director of college counseling at The Crefeld School in Philadelphia, Pa.

For many students and families, it is beneficial to have more time to make the decision, which means more time to compare financial offers, more time to visit (or revisit) the school and more time to research the right fit. Most colleges offering ED will allow you to decline admission if the financial aid package doesn't meet your needs, but in some cases, you won't yet know what other financial aid offers are available at that point, so you may have difficulty evaluating the package.

“So I recommend ED only for students who have done a lot of work around really identifying their clear first choice and who are confident that the finances will work out for them,” notes Cunitz.

Of course, there are advantages to Early Decision if a student is set on a specific college.

“If a student finds a college where they believe they will thrive academically, socially and extra-curricularly, then ED can be a great option,” says Weingarten. “Typically, they increase their chances of admission, and if accepted, they can celebrate and relax. They take comfort early in senior year that they are 'done' — and the stress level rapidly dissipates. It's an amazing feeling for those lucky students to be accepted into their ED school.”

Rolling Admissions

Rolling Admissions can be a fantastic way to apply to college for almost any student. In this situation, students apply early, get their acceptance letters earlier than other institutions and then don't have to commit to attending the institution or not until May 1.

“Students can often have an early acceptance in their back pocket, which can ease some of the stress of the college admission process,” says Weingarten.

It might be a good idea to apply to a few institutions that have rolling admissions just to have a college acceptance in earlier so you know you will have an option early in the process.