Should Your Student Apply Early to College?

Early Action, Early Decision, or Regular Decision: Which is right for your child?

Early Action, Early Decision, or Regular Decision: Which is right for your child?

Is applying early right for your child?

Many colleges offer Early Decision or Early Action application options. Both of these procedures differ from regular admissions. Choosing either one will allow your son or daughter to submit an application to the specific school of choice early, long before a larger candidate pool submits applications. Their application will be considered early, and they will hear a final decision months before other applicants do; usually by December of senior year.

You may think at first, what could be better? Take care of all the applications in the summer and in September, fill out the FAFSA and have everything in by Halloween. Then the entire family can sit back, relax and wait for those acceptance letters.

However, there are some crucial details for both of these application processes that parents need to be aware of before heading down this path.

Early Decision: Pros & Cons

Early decision is binding

When you choose early decision, you choose only one school and you are making a commitment that your child will attend as long as the financial aid package is feasible. You agree to withdraw any other applications that have been sent to other schools.

In essence, you are entering into a binding agreement during the application process; your child demonstrates their keen desire to attend the school by applying early decision and the school makes their decision based, in part, on that agreement.

Potentially only one application to fill out

Because Early Decision is exclusive, your child should only be filling out one. This means they potentially avoid the stress of juggling multiple college applications. If they are accepted, and the financial aid works out, they will be secure in the knowledge of where they are heading while most of their peers are still busy with applications.

Early Action: Pros & Cons

Not able to use the GPA of final semester

Early action does not have the same exclusive nature as early decision. However, there are a few other drawbacks to keep in mind. For one, your child will be unable to use their 1st semester of 12th grade transcript.

Early action decisions are often made before mid-December, which means the GPA and SAT / ACT scores most likely considered would be the ones from the 11th grade. Only applications with a strong academic standing truly benefit from early action, because it is a more competitive pool of applications.

Still able to compare multiple offers

With early action, while the offers are made early, the decision of where to go can still take time, which could add some stress to both of your lives. Your student will be able to apply either early action or regular decision to other schools, which means they can wait to receive multiple offers and compare. This can be both a pro and a con, as it gives you more options, but also more stress.

The (Early) Decision is Yours

Why consider an early application? One big reason is that it allows your student to demonstrate a keen interest in the school. This is one of the ways college admission officers measure the eagerness of applicants and students who show a strong interest are often more likely to be accepted. This means if your child is applying to a competitive school it could give them a bit of an edge. 

If you plan to consider either one of these application options, the best thing to do is to make an appointment to talk to your child’s college counselor. Review their transcripts, their test scores, and their activities/sports participation. Then, take a look at the colleges and universities to which your child will seek admission. Does one stand out as an excellent match? Does the counselor think the chances of acceptance are strong? Listen to the advice and then talk to your child and together, you can make an informed decision about what truly is best.

Need help coming up with a list of college matches? Use our free College Match.