Compare the options
Regular Decision. Through this process, high school students evaluate possible choices through the fall of their senior year and then apply by January 1. Colleges then sift through the piles of applications and send out their decisions in early April, and students have until the traditional candidate’s reply date of May 1 to choose the school they will attend in the fall.
Early Decision (ED). ED means you apply to only one special school that you’re certain you want to attend. Usually, you apply in the middle of November or early December, and in return, colleges give you special consideration because they know you’re committing to their school. (Still, it doesn’t guarantee admission. Be sure to check what percentage of early applicants are admitted vs. regular applicants.) After colleges review the early applications, they usually send out their decisions in mid-December. Those who are rejected still have about two weeks to apply to their other choices.
ED has come under fire for putting more pressure on students, forcing them into the decision-making game a half year earlier than usual. Plus, early deciders do not have a chance to compare aid packages from other schools.
Early Action. This is similar to ED in that students apply in November. Then they find out in January or February if they’re accepted. The big difference is early action is non-binding. Early action programs at most schools let students show a preference early on bur give them the flexibility of applying to other schools. Stanford and Yale have recently eliminated their early decision programs in favor of non-binding early action, joining the ranks of other early action schools such as Harvard, Georgetown, and University of Chicago.
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