Key to understanding The Application Process and setting Deadlines & Timelines is understanding Application Plans. Colleges generally offer one to five Application Plans. By Application Plan, I mean a way of applying to their College, in terms of timing and the related terms. With the exception of Colleges that offer a Rolling Admission Application Plan, generally a College will offer a Regular Decision Application Plan and some sort of early Application Plan: Early Action, Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action.

Early Action (EA) is similar to Early Decision, in that there is an earlier deadline, generally late October to early November.  But EA is non-binding: you are not committing to that College, which means you can compare financial offers from all the Colleges that accept you before deciding where to attend. However Colleges with Restrictive Early Action plans may not allow you to apply EA to another College. For more information, see Early Decision, Early Action Restrictive Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission.

Unrestricted Stock Graphic Calendar

The terms of Application Plans include 1) when you apply 2) when you are accepted or denied 3) when you must commit to attend that College and 4) under what terms you can apply to other Colleges at the same time.

If you apply to a College EA, you gain some of the advantages of Early Decision, without the commitment. If your academic resume looks good (you aren’t waiting for your 1st semester senior year grades to bring up your GPA or to take the SAT and/or ACT again in order to pull up the score), and a College offers EA, then it’s a good idea to apply EA. EA students are generally notified whether they are accepted by mid-December.

Check out The Application Process and Deadlines & Timelines to be prepared to apply EA.


To determine which application plans are offered at a particular College, type <school name> undergraduate admissions deadlines in your search engine.  Generally you may also apply to other Colleges via Early DecisionRegular Decision and Rolling Admission at the same time you apply to an EA college. Some Colleges have their own policy for when/how you can apply to other Colleges, so be sure to check their admissions webpages to confirm.


  • EA students tend to be organized, highly qualified students.
  • Admissions Officers are able to review EA applications early in the season, limiting the deluge of applications that arrive immediately before the Regular Decision deadline.


  • Colleges generally have a slightly higher acceptance rate for EA applicants, partly because EA applicants tend to be highly qualified. Consider the Admission Officers reading an EA application. They are thinking, “This person is qualified; if I don’t accept them, will I get many as well-qualified applicants in the Regular Decision applicant pool?”. The answer to that question is impossible to predict, both for the Admissions Officer and the Applicant.
  • Colleges are aware that by not applying Early Decision to their college, you are in the position to shop around, looking for the best offers. If a College wants you, they are likely to woo you with merit and/or financial aid offers.
  • One of the best ways to determine if a College is “the one”, is to visit that college overnight, staying in a dorm room with a current student, attending classes, eating in the cafeteria and soaking up the atmosphere. Most colleges do not allow overnight visits until the fall of a student’s senior year. Some families may choose to wait for both scheduling reasons and to save money to send their senior to visit a particular College until they know they have been accepted.  Many Regular Decision Colleges don’t notify you of your acceptance until 4/1, requiring a commitment 5/1. That gives you (and possibly thousands of other applicants) one month to schedule a visit to finalize your decision, which may be impossible.
  • It’s just nice to know by mid-December that you have been accepted, particularly if you have decided to eliminate applying to some Regular Decision (RD) and/or Rolling Admission (RA) Colleges, if you get accepted to a particular Early Action College.


Applying Early Can be a Good Thing... Unless it's Not

Applying Early Can be a Good Thing… Unless it’s Not

  • It is difficult to complete your Application Essay, Letters of Recommendation, etc. and to have accumulated your best possible test score and GPA early in your Senior Year
  • Some colleges will defer EA applicants who are not accepted into the Regular Decision pool and some choose to deny all admission to EA applicants who are not accepted.  If your first choice College does not defer EA applicants to the regular pool, you take the chance you won’t be one of the competitive EA applicants who is admitted.
Does money motivate you?

When you apply can have a direct impact on how much aid you will receive.

Understanding a College’s policy regarding financial and/or merit aid offered to EA students is an important consideration that should be discussed with a College’s Admission Officer. It is also important to research and discuss admission rates for the different Application Plans at that college. Remember to ask about the adjusted EA acceptance rate, eliminating athletes and legacies in the EA acceptance rate.

There are many articles regarding Application Plans.  College Board (who operates the SAT) discusses the Facts About Applying Early.

© Complete Systems, LLC dba Elligiblecollegestudent.com, All Rights Reserved
*** Elligiblecollegestudent.com is a division of Complete Systems, LLC ***



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.