clock-and-calendarWhen I spoke to one of my senior clients the other day, I asked how she was doing. She replied, “12 days.”

12 days until what? It’s the number of days until she finds out if she’s been accepted Early Decision to her first-choice college. Early Decision, or ED as it’s more commonly known, refers to an application plan that allows students to apply early, typically by November 1st or November 15th. When you apply early, you get a speedy response from the colleges, usually by December 15th.

ED is also sometimes referred to as “one and done,” meaning apply to one college and if you’re lucky, you’ll be done! While there is a perceived advantage to applying early as the admit rate is typically higher in the ED pool as opposed to the regular pool, college admissions officers will say their ED pool of applicants is usually academically stronger and often includes recruited athletes.

Before you get too excited, note that an ED acceptance is a binding agreement, meaning you have to go – which doesn’t sound like such a bad idea if it’s the Ivy League school of your dreams. However, if you’re looking for financial aid, you’ll lose that ability to compare scholarship packages among the schools on your list.

Early Action (EA) is another early application plan offered by a lot of schools. The benefit is that EA is not binding. So applying EA a student can find out by December 15th if they’ve been accepted but they can also wait to hear from other colleges. However, many highly selective colleges only offer ED.

And then there are some schools —Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford—that offer a different program called something like “Single Choice Early Action” or “Restricted Early Action.” Under these plans, you don’t have to promise to attend if accepted, but you can apply only to that one college: applications to other schools are generally disallowed.

The vast majority of students won’t get into college via Early Decision or Early Action, so don’t get complacent. Be ready to jump right back into the application process. Some students have already submitted applications to other colleges, knowing that if they get accepted, they will simply withdraw their application.

But for most students, a rejection from ED or EA means it’s back to the drawing board. Back in the dark ages before the electronic Common Application form, applying to a second or third or fourth college wasn’t as easy as it is today. Now, students already have most of their application uploaded.

News flash! My client just checked her college portal and discovered that the school of her dreams will be notifying applicants of their decisions earlier than the original December 15th date. Now she’s going to find out on December 10th at 4pm PST. Wow- her countdown just shrunk to 7 days, five hours, 35 minutes and ten seconds. But who’s counting?!

Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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