Student submitting college application
Student submitting college application

Decoding College Admissions: A Closer Look into Admission Rounds (Early Decision, Early Action, etc.)

Decoding College Admissions: A Closer Look into Admission Rounds (Early Decision, Early Action, etc.)

We all know that applying to college can be a daunting task that requires careful planning and consideration, with lots of factors to consider. Among the most important decisions you will make is determining which round of admissions to pursue when applying to a particular school, a decision that is increasingly consequential in college admissions. At Premium Prep, we make sure to prioritize this topic in conversations with students and families, since it has such a large impact on the application process. In this blog post, I provide an overview of the options–including Early Decision, Early Action, Early Decision 2, Regular Decision, and more–and the specific benefits and risks of each.

Early Decision (ED)

Early Decision is a binding agreement between a student and a college or university. When a student applies Early Decision, they are committing unconditionally to attend that school if accepted. ED applications are typically due in November or December, and decisions are released in December or January. Results include Admit, Deny, or Defer, and sometimes Waitlist. If accepted, the student is required to withdraw their applications from other colleges and commit to attending their ED school. If deferred, the student is placed in the Regular Decision pool of applicants and is not bound to attend the school if ultimately accepted.

Benefits of Early Decision:

  • Higher acceptance rates: The acceptance rates for Early Decision applicants is typically higher, often significantly higher. ED acceptance rates can often be two to three times higher than Regular Decision.  
  • Allows for early planning: If accepted, a student will have more time to plan for college and may be able to take advantage of early course registration, priority housing and other opportunities.
  • If accepted ED, the pressure is off at an early date and one can more easily relax and enjoy their senior year.

Risks of Early Decision:

  • Binding commitment: If accepted, a student is obligated to attend that school and must withdraw all other applications.
  • Be thoughtful about your Early! You may only apply ED to one school, and applicants therefore need to be careful about where they choose to do so. Students want to be sure that they are not squandering the ED advantages (read: higher acceptance rates) by applying Early Decision to a school that is too much of a reach.
  • Financial aid concerns: If admitted ED, students will not be able to compare financial aid and scholarship offers from other schools.
  • Advanced preparation: Applying Early Decision is a big decision and requires advanced research and preparation, and the application itself is often due earlier than in other rounds.
  • Students can feel pressured to apply Early Decision before they are really ready to make a commitment.

(Wondering how prepared you are for the college application process? Take our free Application Readiness Assessment now and find out!

Early Action (EA) or Priority

Early Action (sometimes also called Priority) is similar to Early Decision, but it is non-binding. Not all schools offer this option. With EA, students apply to a school early and receive a decision before the Regular Decision deadline. Early Action applications are typically due in November or December, and decisions are released in December or January. If accepted, the student has until May 1 to decide whether to attend.

Benefits of Early Action:

  • Early notification: EA students receive their admission decision earlier, which can relieve some stress and allow for better planning.
  • Non-binding commitment: EA students can apply to multiple schools and compare offers before making a final decision.
  • Demonstrates interest: Applying Early Action demonstrates to the college that you are very interested in them, are motivated, and have done your research.

Risks of Early Action:

  • Early Action carries very few risks. Some schools do not offer EA as an option. Those that do tend to be selective, since they worry less about yield (i.e., whether those they accept decide to attend).
  • Students sometimes hesitate to apply Early Action because they want their senior year grades to be more heavily considered, which is more possible in the Regular round because of its later due dates. However, the advantages of applying EA usually trumps the value of waiting to apply Regular Decision.

Early Decision 2 (ED2)

Early Decision 2 is essentially the same as Early Decision, but the deadline for ED2 is later, usually in January or February. Like ED, ED2 is a binding commitment, meaning that if you are accepted, you must attend and are expected to immediately withdraw all other applications.

Benefits of Early Decision 2:

  • Another chance at ED: this is very appealing for students who were either denied or deferred during the first Early Decision round and would like another chance at securing a definitive admission.
  • ED2 allows students some more time to consider their options than with ED.

Risks of Early Decision 2:

  • Binding commitment: If accepted, a student is obligated to attend that school and must withdraw all other applications.
  • Financial aid concerns: ED2 students may not receive as much financial aid or scholarships because they are not able to compare offers from other schools.
  • Advanced preparation: as with ED, applying ED2 requires advanced research and preparation, and the application itself is due earlier than in other rounds.
  • ED2 is often less of an advantage in terms of acceptance rate than the first round of ED, so it’s important to choose your ED and ED2 schools carefully. ED2 can be less predictable because colleges are more focused on their full pool of applicants and therefore are often more conservative with acceptances.

(Wondering how prepared you are for the college application process? Take our free Application Readiness Assessment now and find out!)

Regular Decision (RD)

Regular Decision deadlines are usually in January or February, and students receive their admission decision in March or April. Regular Decision is a non-binding commitment, meaning that you can apply to multiple schools and compare offers before making a final decision.

Benefits of Regular Decision:

  • More time to apply: RD gives students the most time to take their exams (SAT/ACT), research their list of schools, and work on their applications.
  • More time to decide: applying RD gives students the maximum amount of time to consider their options and compare results from different schools.
  • Compare and contrast: RD allows students to compare offers from different schools and their costs before making a final decision.

Risks of Regular Decision:

  • Greater competition: RD is the most competitive round, with the most applicants vying for acceptance slots. Acceptance rates for RD are often significantly lower than for the “early” rounds, sometimes upwards of 20 percentage points lower.
  • Later decision dates: Students who apply RD must wait until March or April to receive their admission decisions, which can be stressful and limit their ability to plan ahead.
  • Many additional institutional priorities come into play with Regular Decision so the competition is most fierce in this round.

Rolling Admissions

With Rolling Admission, the institution’s admissions office reviews applications as they are received and makes decisions throughout the application cycle. Students can submit their application as early as the college or university begins accepting applications, and decisions are typically made within a few weeks to a few months. A limited number of schools offer this option, and those that do tend to be larger public schools.

Benefits of Rolling Admissions:

  • Early notification: students who apply to a Rolling Decision school receive their admission decision earlier and can start planning accordingly.
  • Flexibility: students can apply at any time during the admissions cycle, providing more flexibility and control over the process.

Risks of Rolling Admissions:

  • Like Early Action, Rolling Admissions carries very few risks, though it is not offered at all colleges and universities. The only other consideration with Rolling Decision is when to apply, since there is no single due date, and some schools give priority to those sending in their applications early. 
  • Schools that use a Rolling Admission model typically become more competitive as it gets later in the cycle. They may also have a soft deadline for scholarship consideration, so you should plan to submit any rolling applications as early as possible.

Conclusion

Choosing the right admissions round is a personal decision that requires a lot of thought and consideration of many factors. It also depends on a student’s individual circumstances and preferences. Yet, it also can be one of the most consequential decisions you make in your college process, since the advantages of “early” rounds are very real. It’s crucial to consider the benefits and risks of each round and choose the one that aligns with your aspirations and needs. Ultimately, the most important thing is to choose the round that is best for you and enables you to make the most of your college application process.

If you’re wondering how prepared you are for that process, take our free Application Readiness Assessment now and find out.