While most people talk about early admissions programs as though all of them work similarly, in reality there are two very different types of programs offered by colleges.
Definition: Students applying to Early Action programs (which typically have November deadlines) find out from schools in December whether they've been admitted. Early Action admits still have until the regular May deadline to let the school know whether they plan to attend.
Early Action is simply a promise by colleges to review applications on an expedited schedule. While some students are thus accepted in December, no one is required to attend the college or even make a decision before the regular May reply date. Early Action gives students the benefit of a possible early acceptance that can relieve stress and help with early planning. The drawback is that, while likely providing a slight admissions advantage, Early Action candidates do not enjoy nearly the admissions preference of Early Decision applicants.
Early Action is similar to Early Decision, with one important distinction--Early Decision applicants are required to attend a college if admitted there via an Early Decision Program.
Restrictive Early Action is a non-binding early application option for students who have completed a thorough college search and are confident in their first choice. Admission decisions are released by mid-December, and admitted students have until the regular notification date – usually May 1 - to respond to their admission offer. This allows students and families to compare financial aid awards across institutions. Students who choose to apply for financial aid can expect an estimated award at the time of admission. The application deadline for Restrictive Early Action is often times November 1.
3 Possible Restrictive Early Action Admission Decisions
1. Applicant is admitted and has until May 1 to respond to the admission offer.
2. Applicant is denied and may not reapply for Regular Decision admission in the same year.
3. Applicant is deferred to Regular Decision and will receive a final decision by April 1.
Since most schools like to make final decisions whenever possible, only a small percentage of Restrictive Early Action applicants are deferred.
Restrictions on Students Applying Restrictive Early Action
The RAS has, as one might expect, restrictions. Applicants agree not to apply to any other private college or university under an Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision or Early Notification program. Applicants may apply to other colleges and universities under their Regular Decision option, since it will be unclear of the REA decision from the school until after the end of the regular application process for many students.
Exceptions to Restrictions
The student may apply to any college or university with early deadlines for scholarships or special academic programs as long as the decision is non-binding.
The student may apply to any public college or university with a non-binding early application option.
The student may apply to any college or university with a non-binding rolling admission process.
The student may apply to any foreign college or university on any application schedule.
If you are considering applying to another college or university whose application option does not appear to qualify as an exception, a call should be made to the Office of Undergraduate Admission for their position.
Definition: This program enables students to apply to a college in November and receive a decision in December (as opposed to the typical January deadline and April notification). Students can only apply to one school via Early Decision and are required to attend if admitted. If you’re admitted, the student is required to withdraw any applications that have been sent to other schools. The student is also required to send your enrollment deposit to the school soon after admittance, normally in early January.
Early Decision programs have been proven to provide a benefit to those who take advantage of them - put simply, it's easier to get into a college via the Early Decision process. If a student has a strong first-choice school, it makes sense to apply there Early Decision (while continuing to complete applications in case the student is rejected or the decision is deferred until the regular notification date). Applying Early Decision almost certainly increases an applicant's odds of being accepted.
Deciding About Early Decision and Early Action
The National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC)produced a Word document to help a family decide whether applying early is a good alternative or not. Visit: