Early Applications

By Lee Shulman Bierer, College Admissions Strategies – Founder


Ready or not, the college application season has begun. Early or not is the question.

I know I’m not the only one who feels the college application process seems to be creeping earlier each year. There used to be a uniformity among colleges and their deadlines. For the most part, applications were due in January of the senior year and students were notified in March or April. When colleges recognized that many students end up choosing to attend the first college that accepted them, they started a domino effect with earlier and earlier notifications and with that has come earlier application deadlines.

Today I’ll review two of these programs: Early Action and Early Decision.

Early Action:

Early Action is a great option for the well-prepared student who has a solid transcript and has taken the necessary standardized tests. Students apply early and are allowed to apply Early Action to as many colleges as they choose, except for the handful of colleges with the Single Choice Early Action program. The biggest benefit for students is that they are notified early; in December or January. Many of the public institutions offer Early Action. Roughly 15 percent of colleges and universities across the country offer an Early Action option.

October 15 is the first deadline for many colleges and universities. This movement towards earlier deadlines is especially popular in the Southeast with many of the large public flagships universities leading the way: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), University of South Carolina and University of Georgia all sport an October 15 Early Action deadline.


Early Decision:

Early Decision is binding; students who are accepted must withdraw their other applications and are bound to attend that school. Students are allowed to apply to just one school Early Decision. Early Decision deadlines are typically November 1, with notification by mid-December.

There is a lot of folklore surrounding the perceived added benefits of applying Early Decision. Just how much likelier is an acceptance for a student who applies Early Decision rather than Regular Decision is very variable. In some cases there is big jump in acceptance rates and at other colleges it is not significant at all. Parents and students need to keep in mind that the higher rates of acceptance with Early Decision can often be attributed to a variety of factors. Typically the strongest students are applying early and they would have been accepted in Regular Decision as well. Athletes, legacies and students with focused interests are encouraged to apply Early Decision and these factors often skew the numbers.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com