What Does Early Decision Mean?

There are a variety of ways to apply to colleges and it’s important to have a clear understanding of what each means so that you can make an informed decision as to how you want to apply. You should note that not all colleges offer all ways. We address each type of application below.

Early Decision

The most important thing to note about an early decision application is that it is binding. If you are accepted you must attend that school. When you apply to a school early decision – and you may only apply to ONE school early decision – you, and 1 of your parents, sign a contract that you will go to that school if it accepts you. The early decision deadline is typically November 1st or November 15th, sometimes in between. Not all schools have an early decision option. You will usually receive a response by the middle of December or before the holiday break. Because early decision is binding it is so important to make sure you understand your finances. We recommend that you use the net price calculator when applying early decision. Go to the website of the school to which you’re thinking of applying early decision and go through the net price calculator to get an idea of the approximate price of attendance. You may be surprised as to what the price actually is, and it’s important to have a financial understanding BEFORE you hit the submit button.

Early Action

Applying early action means just as it sounds: you apply early and you will hear back from the school early. Early action is not binding. If you get accepted early action, you are not contractually obligated to go to that school. You can apply to more than one school early action, and you don’t have to give an answer early. You have until the regular acceptance deadline to decide. We think, however, that the early bird has the best opportunity to get the worm. So, we encourage our students to apply early in the process. We have them start submitting their college applications in the middle to the end of August and well before the typical November 1st early action and early decision deadlines. College applications are date and time stamped so admissions officers know when you submitted your application, and submitting early can show interest and demonstrate diligence.

Regular Admission

Then there is regular decision. A regular decision deadline can be as early as November 1st, or even some October 15. Schools with regular decision can also have a priority deadline, such as University of Maryland and Penn State. This priority deadline means that if you apply by the priority deadline you will get priority. If you apply afterwards, who knows about your admission decision. For the most part for schools that offer early action and/or early decision, regular decision typically starts at the beginning of January and sometimes can go to the middle of January. If at all possible, you don’t want to wait until the deadline to apply. We always tell our students to not pay attention much to the deadline, but rather submit your applications as soon as you possibly can. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the deadlines but that you should be proactive because there’s a finite number of students that the school is going to accept. If you wait until the deadline, they may have already accepted 75% of the students, which reduces your chances of acceptance.

Rolling Admission

With rolling admissions, when you submit your application to the school, which can be as early as the beginning of August, they will start to review it and within a few weeks you’ll receive a response. University of Pittsburgh is one school that uses rolling admissions.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of what early decision means and how this type of application compares to early action, regular admission and rolling admissions.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.