Why Apply Early?

It’s that time of year again, and our senior students are gearing up to submit their applications this fall. While most universities give students until early-to-mid January to do so, many also offer an earlier deadline by which students may apply and hear their admission results sooner (by December).

But why should you apply early? There are several reasons to consider doing so. To start, go ahead and see Lindsay’s post, which includes specific statistics on last year’s data. You’ll see from the graphs that a staggering percentage of the incoming class at these top universities is admitted in the early round. Why is this the case?

What it means to apply Early Decision or Early Action

There are two unique types of early plans: Early Decision and Early Action. These two deadlines both typically fall around November 1 but are distinctly different in an important way. 

  • Early Decision: This is the school for you. You’d possibly do irrationally silly things to join the incoming class. You’re putting all your eggs in one basket and keeping your fingers crossed that they’ll see that you bleed red/green/blue/gold/orange/black (whatever the school colors are) and would be over the moon with happiness if you were admitted. And if you are admitted, you’re 100% committed to attending, and completely done with college applications for good by mid-December.

  • Early Action: This is a school (or schools) that you’d be happy to attend. You feel that your application is going to be the strongest it’ll ever be by November 1, and you just want to know ASAP whether you’d be admitted to this school. If you are admitted, the decision is NOT binding, so you may still apply to more schools by their Regular Decision deadline. It’s important to note that some schools offer restrictive Early Action policies which prevent students from simultaneously applying early (action or decision) to other universities, so be sure to read the fine print.


But why are the chances of being admitted higher? 

The students who apply ED/EA are typically some of the strongest students who will apply to that school all year. They’ve already decided that their application is the best it could possibly be by the November 1 deadline, and they know with some level of certainty which university they’d like to attend for the next four years. ED schools admit close to 50% of their incoming class in the Early round because they know that student will definitely attend their school. Because remember? It’s binding.

EA schools have a bit more room and flexibility. On occasion, a university may deny an exceptionally strong student who they don’t think would actually attend their school because it would affect their yield (and perhaps, accordingly, their overall ranking). But most universities will admit students based on merit and will hope that the student will choose their school on May 1. The assumption is that because the student has applied early, the university must be close to the top of the student’s list of places they would like to attend. 

What happens after you apply early?

  • Admitted: Congratulations! If you applied Early Decision (ED), your admission is binding, and you will need to commit to attending that university. If you applied Early Action (EA), you may still apply to other universities by the Regular Decision (RD) deadline before ultimately committing to a school by May 1. Different universities will have either an ED policy or an EA policy, which is an important distinction to consider when planning your Early application strategy. Some schools offer both options, though this is not typical.

  • Denied: Although this outcome is disappointing, you can now focus your energy on crafting outstanding applications for the Regular Round (often Jan 1 - Jan 15) at your selected universities. Fortunately, you’ll have a quarter’s (or semester’s) worth of strong grades to submit along with your Regular Decision (RD) application, which will hopefully enhance your overall profile for consideration.

  • Deferred: This means the university saw a lot of strength in your application but wants to wait to see what the Regular round of applicants will look like before offering you a definite result. Universities have different statistics on how many deferred students are ultimately admitted in the Regular round, but rest assured, they will re-discuss your application in full with the Admission Committee when determining their ultimate decision, which is generally revealed around mid-March to early April. In this case, strong mid-year grades will be essential.

While it may seem too soon, it’s certainly a strategic move to consider submitting an early application. However, you should only do so if you believe that your application, by the November 1 deadline, is the strongest and most accurate representation of your academic ability and strength. That means you’re happy with your standardized test scores, you’ve consistently shown top-notch academic performance in your classes, and your essays represent you in the best and most comprehensive way possible. There’s no reason to wait, and you want to enjoy the December holidays with a potential admit letter in hand.

If that’s not the case, feel free to wait. With one more semester of strong grades under your belt (i.e. Senior Fall), or perhaps one more sitting of a standardized exam, you might have an even stronger application by the Regular round in January. And that’s totally fine, too.