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College Early Action Acceptance Rates

Updated on November 18, 2015

Gaining an Advantage

My favorite guidance counselor knows more about the college application process than anyone else I know. She urges nearly all of her students to apply early action.

She and other experts believe this gives them the added edge of gaining acceptance and, possibly, a better financial aid package as well. With two children who've successfully navigated the college admissions process, I'd have to agree.

The reason behind this thinking is that colleges like to pad their freshman classes with a well-rounded mix of smart students. Someone who stands out, with impressive credentials, grades and test scores, is someone an admissions officer won't want to let get away.

Getting everything in early, before the rest of the pack, gives you the best chance of being noticed.

The Earlier the Better

Imagine you work in an admissions department at a large university. You are charged with finding the best crop of students for the next academic year.

It's mid September, and you notice a slow trickle of applications. One or two stand out and you put these in the “A” pile. You also show them to your supervisor to see if she is as impressed as you. She is. Both of you remember these names when it's time to mail the fat envelopes that contains the acceptance letters, and also when it's time to think about who ends up with the limited number of merit scholarships and invitations to your honors college.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm


Early Action Gives You a Better Chance of Being Accepted

The standard advice now is to apply early, to boost your chances of acceptance. Here is a real-life case in point.

My daughter and another girl she graduated with both applied to the same increasingly competitive flagship state university. The other girl had better grades, better SAT scores and an amazing array of awards and extracurricular activities.

Guess who was accepted? My daughter was, and the other girl wasn't. Why? I believe this is because my daughter completed her application before the November 1 deadline. The other student went with the January 1 regular decision deadline.

What Are You Going to Do?

How Are You Going to Apply to College?

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Who Shouldn't Do Early Action

Someone who still has no idea where they want to go to college should probably hold off on an early application. The fact that you're not entirely committed to the school you are applying to might show through.

There is another group of students that should definitely not consider early action. A student who still needs a strong first semester of his senior year to boost his GPA average should wait until the regular decision deadline.


A Big Distinction

  • Early action does not mean you are committing to a particular school. With a few exceptions, you are free to apply elsewhere.
  • Early decision means you must attend a particular college if they send you an acceptance letter.

Not to be Confused with Early Decision

Early action is a non-binding situation in which the student is free to apply to other schools at the same time. (However, some elite private colleges may have a stipulation in which you can't apply to any other private school during this time. That's why you need to thoroughly research the rules of each institution before you apply.)

Early decision, on the other hand, is a commitment you're making to the university. You cannot apply anywhere else, and if you're accepted, you'll agree to attend.

Although this should give the student an admissions advantage, it might carry a downside when it comes to financial aid allocations. The school has already been assured of your desire to enroll, so it doesn't need to entice you with scholarships.

Choosing just one college also doesn't allow you to review financial aid packages from a range of schools.

Early decision would best serve students who know where they want to go, and are not dependent upon financial aid. Although there is a binding agreement, a student may still decline, with no penalty, if the institution cannot meet his or her financial need.

Good Advice on Early Action

The Financial Advantage of Early Action

If you are from a low to moderate-income family, early action carries another benefit. You could receive your admissions decision before the institution you're applying to has had a chance to glance at your parents' finances.

In recent years, with a struggling economy, some colleges have begun to take the family wealth factor into account. Students with high financial needs may be rejected or put on a wait list.

Conversely, some colleges are awarding merit scholarships to students from well-to-do families instead of to those from needy families. The idea is that the rich family will be able to afford the remainder of the tuition without a lot of extra institutional aid.

However, very top students from all socioeconomic backgrounds are highly prized, and can expect to receive generous merit aid.

Early is Usually Better with College Applications


Another Advantage of Early Action

Once Christmas break comes you can relax and enjoy the holiday. Your applications are in and you're not scrambling to get that last recommendation letter.

If you don't get into some of your top choices, there's still time to apply to some other schools.

Early action also gives you more time to compare offers in order to make a decision where you'll spend the next four years of your life.

The Downside of Early Decision


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What Do You Think About Early Action?

Submit a Comment
  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi WriterFox, I think you have a very good point. A student who applies early is motivated and doesn't procrastinate. (Or at least they didn't in this instance.) Thank you for reading and for voting up.

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 

    5 years ago from the wadi near the little river

    Excellent advice! I think that applying earlier is also a sign of a highly motivated applicant and one who has not chosen the university by default. Voted up.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi FlourishAnyway, I never heard of this either until my won children started exploring the idea of going to college. But it's almost as if the deadline has been pushed forward. Thank you for reading.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    Wonderful hub. When I was applying to colleges I don't think they had the early action vs. early decision distinction. This is going to be extraordinarily helpful for students and parents. Voted up and more, plus sharing and pinning.


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