Deciding to apply early | On College

As the school year gets underway again, and the college process continues, it is important to consider the options for applying early to schools. There are three choices for early admissions.

The first is early decision, which is a binding contract. If accepted, you are required to attend the college or university, assuming that you are offered an adequate financial aid package. This is advantageous because it may double, or even triple, your chances of admissions at certain institutions because it improves the school’s “yield,” meaning that they have your guarantee that you will be attending. Of course, it could also help you breathe a little easier for the rest of your senior year because you will hear back with the admission decision in mid-December. However, it does limit your options to compare financial aid packages and may even add pressure to accept a package that is not satisfactory. Also, students must be very confident in their decision to attend the school, and not all students are ready to make that decision so early on. You might change your mind come April, when you have a clearer idea of what you want from college. Finally, if your grades and scores are not within the parameters of the accepted student profile of the college before your first semester of senior year, applying early decision is probably not going to improve chances of admission.

The second choice is early action, which is non-binding, and you still hear back by Christmas. You may apply to as many schools as you would like for early action. As with early decision, this is not an appropriate option if you are waiting for first semester grades and scores to boost where you might stand at the end of junior year.

Lastly, the third choice, offered only at a select group of schools such as Boston College, Yale and Stanford, is restrictive early action, also called single-choice early action. You are prohibited from applying to any other school that has early decision, but you may still apply to other schools with non-binding early contracts. It is essential to keep in mind that the deadlines for all three choices are significantly earlier than the regular admission cycle, and you don’t want to jeopardize the quality of your application just to rush it along.

Joan Franklin is the owner of MI College Support, an independent college counseling practice ( She can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 19
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates