Early Action is, when timing works, one of the fairest processes in college admissions when applying to many schools. It can also be an unfair process at a very small number of very selective colleges.
Early Action comes in five flavors, depending on the school. None obligate you to send the enrollment deposit until the school’s official deadline, usually May 1st. In fact, you are not obligated to deposit at any school that accepts you Early Action.
The best part about Early Action is that prospective students have time to consider the school, and the school has time to share more information with them to help them make a better informed decision.
The worst part is that students might receive more marketing e-mails than they would like, especially if the school does not rank high on their list. Most schools that use Early Action do not prohibit students from applying Early Decision to a first-choice school.
Most often, Early Action requires an early application. Prospective students must send all information in early, usually before November 1st to meet a deadline. They usually receive a decision in mid-December, though sometimes it might come later, depending on where the applicant ranks in the pool. Most schools that use Early Action, including flagship state universities, are of this flavor.
Rolling Admissions can also be a form of Early Action for students who apply early. The difference between Early Action and Rolling Admissions is that Rolling Admissions has no early deadline. However, if you apply early to a school that uses Rolling Admissions, you can get a decision early, same as you might receive at a school where you apply Early Action.
Then there are the other three flavors used by individual schools. Before you apply to any one of these schools, carefully read the information on their admissions Web pages.
Harvard calls their policy Restrictive Early Action. Prospective students must agree not to apply to any Early Action or Early Decision to any private university. They may apply to public universities, military service academies and international schools. They may also apply to any public or private university that uses Rolling Admissions.
Princeton calls their policy Single Choice Early Action. Princeton imposes the same restrictions as Harvard.
Like Harvard Stanford calls their policy Restrictive Early Action. Stanford goes one step further on their Web page by adding that prospective students may not apply Early Decision to any public or private university. If you’re considering Stanford vs. the University of Virginia or the College of William and Mary, you have a decision to make.
Yale calls their policy Single-Choice Early Action and imposes the same restrictions as Princeton and Harvard.
The restrictions under the policies force students to choose their school as a first choice at the start of an admissions cycle, even though an early acceptance is non binding. I understand the reason: a family that discovers that they cannot afford the school is not forced to come if the school cannot meet their full financial need, if a family emergency prevents them for coming, or a family wants to go through the nominations and admissions process for a military service academy. But a restrictive Early Action policy also takes away the opportunity to comparison shop unless a student is denied admission in late December, putting added pressure to apply to other schools that have January deadlines.
However, the schools that made these policies are all highly desired. None have accepted even a fifth of their applicants. Those who seriously want to come will follow the rules.
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