The Facts About Applying Early: Is It Right for You?

Find the right college for you.

mother and daughter looking at laptop

About 450 colleges offer early admission plans. Under these plans, students can apply to colleges early — well before the usual deadline — and get a decision early.

Some students who apply under these plans have a better chance of getting in than they would through the regular admission process. Colleges benefit from the plans as well because they get students who really want to attend that college to commit early.

How to Decide If Applying Early Is Right for You

Applying early can be a good idea if you’re sure about which college you want to attend. That means you’ve researched its programs and, if possible, visited its campus.

But think twice about applying early if:

  • You want to compare admission and financial aid offers from several colleges.
  • You’d benefit from having another year of high school work to show colleges.

Early Admission Options

There are three main types of early admission plans. All three plans usually require you to apply in October or November. All the plans give you an early decision; you’ll know in December or January if you’ve been accepted.

Other parts of the plans vary by college, though, so talk with a counselor or teacher ahead of time to make sure you understand the rules. Here are some details about each option.

Early decision plans:

  • You can apply to only one early decision college.
  • If the college accepts you and offers you enough financial aid, you must go to that college. That’s why these plans are referred to as “binding.”
  • Some colleges have two early deadlines, called early decision deadline I and early decision deadline II. They both work the same way, but the second deadline gives you more time to decide whether to apply early.
  • Although you may apply to additional colleges through the regular admission process, you must withdraw all other applications if you’re accepted by this college.

Early action plans:

  • You can apply to more than one early action college.
  • If you're accepted, you can say yes right away or wait until spring to decide.
  • You can also decline the offer.

Single-choice early action plans:

  • You can apply early to only one college. Otherwise, these plans work the same as other early action plans.
  • You can still apply to other colleges through the regular admission process.
  • You don't have to give your final answer to the early application college until spring.