Note: Please read our article, High School Seniors: Preparing for Your Next Step After High School, as well as our College-Bound High School Senior Planning Calendar.
If you are very, very certain that there is one college that is perfect for you and you want to show that commitment to the school in the hope of being seen in a more favorable light away from the glare of the hordes of later applicants, you can apply for early decision or early action. Many colleges have early decision programs, while early action programs are slowly gaining in acceptance.
Applicants face much earlier deadlines for submitting early decision college applications, usually by November of your senior year. The good news is you’ll usually know the college’s answer a month later in December. Some colleges have also started a secondary early decision process, where you learn your fate in February instread of December, still much earlier than when regular admission decisions are announced in laste March.
Early decision applications are binding agreements between the applicant and the college that basically state that, if accepted, the student agrees to attend the college. While you are still permitted to submit applications to other colleges before the decision, once you’ve been accepted through early decision, you are asked to withdraw all your other college applications.
Thus, early decision is a great idea for students certain of their college choice.
An interesting twist to early decision, and much less binding, is early action. Similar to early decision, the applicant learns his or her fate early in the admission process, usually a few months after submitting an application.
The biggest advantage to early action is that you know your fate sooner. You are still allowed to apply to other schools and compare financial offers and other criteria before making a decision.
Of course, if you’re a late bloomer in high school, it might make sense to not use either of these programs and apply during the normal cycle so that you can showcase more of your better senior year grades and standardized test scores.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.