A Quick Guide to Early Applications

Jun 2024

8 Minute Read

Tagged as: Applying to Elite Universities, How to Apply

An overview of the different types of admissions a student may seek when applying to a US university, along with a discussion of when to apply early

American university admissions are not consolidated, as they are in other countries. Because of this, you may have to keep several deadlines in mind as you and your student complete college applications.

One thing that can be somewhat confusing for international applicants is the idea of early application deadlines. Submitting your application early to universities that allow for it can give you peace of mind, particularly if a student is applying to a competitive school.

But how do early applications work, and what is the difference between certain procedures?

Difference between Early Action and Early Decision

The two most common procedures for early applications are called Early Action and Early Decision. While the two may seem similar, they are very different in terms of how they affect which schools you can apply to and when.

In the Early Action procedure, students submit their college applications in November, nearly two months before most normal deadlines. They will receive an admissions decision by early January, at which point they have until spring to accept the offer. Student may still apply via Early Action to multiple schools.

Early Decision deadlines also occur in November but the procedure is stricter. If a student is accepted to the school they applied to under this procedure, they must attend that school. If a student wishes to apply under a particular university’s Early Decision program, they may only apply early to that one school.

Other programs: Restrictive Early Action and rolling admission

Restrictive Early Action is the same as plain Early Action: There is no contractual obligation to enroll at the school should a student be accepted, and students have the same amount of time to make their decision. However, Restrictive Early Action prevents a student from applying to any other school's Early Action program. Stanford and Harvard are two schools which use Restrictive Early Action.

Rolling admission is the most flexible application procedure available. Common among large public universities, rolling admission means that admission is decided as individual applications are received until all available slots are filled. Under rolling admission, students have most of the spring to apply for the slots available for the fall semester.

In sum, most schools have a regular admission deadline and either an Early Action or an Early Decision deadline. Some schools, like Purdue University, have rolling admission, Early Action, and regular decision procedures. Other prestigious public schools, such as those in the University of California system, only have a regular decision deadline.

You can find what procedure a school uses on their admissions website.

When is it worth it to apply early?

The fall semester of a student’s last year in high school is an incredibly busy time. As such, choosing to apply to a school early can mean a lot of extra pressure. However, the payoff can be worth it in certain circumstances. If one of the four following scenarios applies to your student, applying early may be a good idea.

We encourage applying Early Decision if your student is 100% sure a certain school is their top choice. Especially if their dream school is a competitive one, like New York University, waiting on a decision can be stressful. However, knowing that a student has been accepted to the university they most wanted to attend early may save families a lot of time in the planning process.

Apply Early Action to one or more schools if you want to keep your options open and are ready to apply early in the semester. Early Action is a very good idea if there are several schools a student wants to attend and they may need to try to improve their test scores one more time. However, because Early Action is a more flexible option, consider carefully if you want to take on the extra work it requires to have a polished application ready just after mid-term exams.

If a student is applying to an Ivy League school, and it is their top choice, applying early is an excellent choice if their exam scores and academics are at a high level. Several years’ worth of admissions statistics have revealed that, on average, nearly three times more early applicants are admitted to the Ivies compared to those who apply during the regular decision round. If a student has a hook, such as being a nationally-acclaimed pianist or award-winning scientist, apply early.

Because neither international student status nor high test scores constitute a hook, neither of these on their own are enough to make an early application worth the stress.

For more application tips, download Occam's app Wend on the App Store!

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