Niche Resources
class of 2017 admissions report

Early Admissions Path May Increase Acceptance

Many colleges are seeing record-number, double-digit increases in early decision (ED) and early action (EA) applicants. Is early admissions right for you?

For students who want to get a leg up on their college applications, there are early action and early decision admissions periods, where students can turn in college applications before the regular deadlines that are typically in the spring.

According to Niche data, based on roughly 200,000 applications from 125,000 college students, students’ chances of getting accepted to a school are 18 percent better if they apply through early action or early decision than through regular decision.

Status Regular Decision Early Decision Early Action
Status Accepted
Regular Decision 74.7%
Early Decision 89.3%
Early Action 87.9%
Status Rejected
Regular Decision 17.5%
Early Decision 7.7%
Early Action 7.4%
Status Waitlisted
Regular Decision 7.8%
Early Decision 3.0%
Early Action 4.7%

**Note: These are aggregates across all schools. Acceptance rates at particular colleges will vary and may be dramatically different than the national average.

According to a Niche user poll, 46 percent of students believe that applying early will help their chances of getting accepted. Yet, despite the belief that early admissions helps secure an enrollment spot, 54 percent of students surveyed are still applying through regular decision or Rolling Admission. In order to alleviate any confusion, here are the main differences between the early action schools and early decision schools, and their processes.

18% Better
Students' chances of getting accepted to a school when applying through Early Action or Early Decision

What is Early Action?

With early action, prospective students can apply earlier to a school, typically in the late fall or early winter, and find out whether they have been admitted sooner. The student can either commit to the school after being admitted or wait until the spring to make a decision, as early action is not binding. Forty-two percent of Niche users believe the most beneficial aspect of Early Action is its time management flexibility because it allows more time to explore the application and financial aid options.

of Niche users have applied or plan to apply to college through Early Action
Benefits of Early Action Consequences of Early Action
Benefits of Early Action Non-binding
Consequences of Early Action Can prevent exploration of all financial aid options
Benefits of Early Action Higher acceptance rates for those that apply early
Consequences of Early Action Encourages laziness in senior year of high school due to early acceptance
Benefits of Early Action Commit right away or wait until spring
Consequences of Early Action Not ideal for students who hope to bring their senior year high school grades up for college applications
Benefits of Early Action Best for time management
Consequences of Early Action
Benefits of Early Action Can usually apply to multiple schools
Consequences of Early Action

What is Restricted Early Action?

Single-choice early action or restricted early action (REA) plans restrict students to applying to only one college, kind of like a hybrid of early action and early decision. Prospective students can still apply to other schools via regular admission, and if they are accepted to their REA school, they don’t have to commit; however, they can only apply to one school through REA, as opposed to applying to a variety of schools through regular Early Action.

What is Early Decision?

While it offers the same kind of deal as Early Action, with early admittance and notification, early decision is binding, meaning that students must attend that particular school if they are admitted. If they apply and get admitted but want to attend a different school, they will have to pay a fee or face other consequences for breaking the Early Decision agreement. When students are accepted through early decision, they are obligated to withdraw all other college applications.

Benefits of Early Decision Consequences of Early Decision
Benefits of Early Decision Best route to go for a dream school
Consequences of Early Decision Can only apply to one college
Benefits of Early Decision Best for time management: more time to enjoy senior year of high school, get a head start on college, come up with a new plan, etc.
Consequences of Early Decision Binding, meaning students HAVE to attend if accepted
Benefits of Early Decision Better chance of being accepted
Consequences of Early Decision A fee if you try to get out of it
Benefits of Early Decision Head start connecting with future collegiate peers
Consequences of Early Decision Often only one financial aid offer

You may notice that sometimes schools have two dates for early decision deadlines and notifications. The second set of dates is for early decision II, which is just a second admissions window that works the same as early decision I, just on a different time frame or schedule.

What happens if you want to break your early decision agreement?

Early decision is not a legally binding agreement, so you will not be breaking the law by attempting to get out of your agreement with the college. If you don’t follow the early decision rules by applying to other schools during or after your admissions process, however, the ED school will not only contact your high school and other colleges that have admitted you, but they will also blacklist you from attending their school. You run the risk of other schools withdrawing their admissions offers to you, which could leave you stuck without any options for college.

So what should you do? Be open and clear with your ED school and any other schools you’d like to attend to discuss whether the ED school will release you from your agreement and allow you to go to another school. The most common—and most legitimate—excuse for wanting out of an Early Decision agreement is that your school did not offer you enough financial aid, which is a risk you have to take when applying to only one school.

Whatever the case, it’s usually something that can be worked out as long as you contact the admissions department and explain your reasons.

Does early decision favor wealthy students?

With college costs rising exponentially each year, students can’t afford to put all their eggs in one basket and limit their ability to find the best possible financial aid package, which is why most students apply during the regular decision time frame.

Many of the nation’s top colleges, including Penn, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Tufts accept more than 40% of their incoming freshman through early decision. With such a high percentage of early decision students taking up spots in the elite colleges’ freshman classes, the chance of acceptance at these schools diminishes if students apply regular decision.

Some argue that students who apply early decision to these elite schools can afford to take the risk of applying to just one school as they are less reliant on a competitive financial aid package.

But is it true? According to The Washington Post, Davidson College accepts more than 60% of their incoming freshman through early decision, with half of the ED students qualifying for need-based financial aid, matching the same share of students who apply regular decision.

Still, the article goes on to say that at some schools, the percentage of early decision students who qualify for need-based aid is lower than in the regular decision population. You can contact the admissions department of the schools you’re interested to find out more about their incoming freshman class stats.

The Bottom Line

Unlike its early decision counterpart, early action offers a little more flexibility in terms of what students can do when it comes to the college application process, but both options can give students an advantage in college admissions. Every school has different early action and early decision time periods and regulations, so it’s best to thoroughly read through a prospective school’s EA and ED rules before applying.

Research Schools on Niche

Author: Niche

Niche helps you discover the schools and neighborhoods that are right for you.