As a former admissions officer and founder of AdmissionsCheckup, an online admissions committee, I am often asked why a student should consider Early Action. My answer? The college admission process is filled with doubts and uncertainty: Is my essay good enough?” “Which school is right for me?” Submitting an Early Action application not only eliminates some of that uncertainty but also puts you ahead of the pack.
What is Early Action?
Colleges offer Early Action plans to permit students to file their applications and receive their acceptance notices ahead of the regular application period. Early Action applications are similar to Early Decision applications, but with fewer limitations.
Unlike Early Decision applications, the Early Action (EA) application process allows you to apply to as many universities as you wish. Additionally, students accepted to a college through Early Action are not required to make a formal commitment until the traditional May 1 deadline. In contrast, Early Decision applicants who gain acceptance must usually make a non-refundable deposit shortly after notification of admission.
Some colleges employ a hybrid application process called Restrictive Early Action. This type of plan limits the number of other institutions to which a student can apply but permits the student to wait until May 1 to accept an offer or make an initial deposit.
How does Early Action Put Students Ahead of the Pack?
First, an increasing number of students are planning and getting ahead by using the Early Action process. Between 2014 and 2015, one-third of four-year colleges surveyed by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offered Early Action. Early Action applications for those schools comprised 40% of total applications. Further, the NACAC’s 2015 State of College Admission report indicates that Early Action applicants for surveyed schools realized an acceptance rate of 73 percent. In comparison, the acceptance rate for total applicant pools was 66 percent.
College Admissions Supply and Demand
Experts differ as to why Early Action applications seem to have an edge. The Yale Daily News reports on Yale admissions website’s theory that its early applicants are often stronger candidates. Others believe that when nearly half of a school’s open seats are filled through early admissions, remaining applicants are left to compete for a decreasing supply.
Human and Logistical Limitations in the Admissions Process
Filing your application early puts your paperwork at the front of the line at your colleges of choice. Admissions officers read an average of 50-80 applications a day throughout the season. Submitting a Regular Decision application may mean that your file isn’t viewed until an admissions officer has already evaluated over 1,000 other applications. That kind of volume can make it hard for your application to stand out.
After all, by the end of the process, the admissions officer has reviewed applications for students that would put Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, and Stephen Hawking to shame. And, as noted above, he or she has probably already made admissions offers to those students.
While some admissions officers indicated they hold the early applicants to a higher standard, analysis of the data suggests otherwise. By the end of the application season, the admissions committee is simply harder to impress. Also, once the class has begun to fill, the admissions office feels less pressure with respect to filling the freshman class. Instead, he or she is topping off an existing class. Someone else has already set the bar; you are just hoping to fall on the right side of it.
What Do You Have to Lose?
If you remain unconvinced that applying in November is the right choice for you, consider the fact that applying earlier may allow you to complete the process earlier.
Early Action allows you to remain open to new choices and opportunities. At the same time, you can feel confident knowing that you have at least one or two schools “in the bag.” As any senior anxiously checking their email will tell you, gaining those first admissions is a wonderful relief. So why not take the plunge? Eliminate some anxiety and give yourself an edge on the competition at the same time!