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Last Updated On: October 28th, 2020

You may be asking yourself, does my child need to do these things? If so, which is better? Let’s get to the meat and bones of the early decision, early action debate.

What is Early Decision?

Early decision is like finding “the one.” You wanted to go to Yale your whole life. You know this is the school for you. You visited and the leaves are turning colors right before your eyes. You’re smitten. Early decision is your engagement, that binding agreement that this is the place for you.

For a full list of early decision schools, check out Prepscholar’s Blog updated August 2020: Early Decision Schools: Complete List of ED Colleges

How does it work?

First, you pick your school. You can only pick one, as this is a binding contract that requires you attend their school if you get in.

Early decision is just that, it’s EARLY. You have to make your choice early. Usually applications are due around November. They generally tell students by December or January if they’ve been accepted.


  • You know right away if you got in
  • You avoid the stress of applying to many schools
  • You make a big, bold statement to your dream school


  • You are required to remove all college applications for other schools and attend their college or university
  • You can’t rely on scholarships and other financial aid packages you may get at the end of your senior year
  • You have to be able to afford the school when you get in, you can’t wait to make that call
  • You can’t compare financial aid packages from multiple schools
  • College EARLY means less time for stellar test scores and less time to build a GPA to show off

What if you don’t get in:

Aside from being super disappointed that you missed out on your first choice… there’s more. Unfortunately, you can’t apply again that school year.

One upside!
If early admissions defers you, you still have the chance to apply again during the regular admissions process.

What does it mean to be deferred?
Basically, you’re going to be reviewed at a later time that year. You haven’t been rejected, but they’ll look at you like a regular decision applicant now.

Just bear in mind… the applicant pool will be significantly larger, BUT now you’re competing with less early decision applicants, aka GPA monsters, so your chances are typically greater.

What if I’m put on a wait list? What the heck does that mean?
Peterson’s blog says it really well, “In academic terms, you’re a backup.” Basically, you need to make other choices that aren’t dependent on the school who’s put you in purgatory. Assume you won’t get in and if you do, that’s a win. Keep your college application updated with anything and everything that might take you from a maybe to a YES!

To read more about wait lists and deferrals, check out Peterson’s blog post: What The Waitlist or a Deferral Means For Your College Acceptance

Then what is Early Action?

Early action is very similar to early decision except you leave room for change. So you know Yale is still the one. Remember the leaves, the smitten feeling. BUT you also love the hustle and bustle of Boston University. Early action allows you to love both schools AND apply to both schools early AND commitment free.

How does it work?

You pick your dream schools. More than one is fine here, so that’s nice. Then you apply EARLY. Just like early decision deadlines, the early action applications are usually due in November. All the early actors and deciders typically turn in the apps at about the same time.

Now you simply wait patiently as you take final exams and anticipate the biggest decision of your life. No pressure!

Once you get accepted to your top choice or top choices you are left with the ultimate decision. Where should I go? You have the blessing of knowing before regular decision deadlines and the opportunity to see what financial aid packages you were offered at multiple schools.


  • You know if you made it in by January
  • You avoid the stress of writing MANY essays and applying to MANY schools
  • You can compare financial aid from multiple early action schools
  • You do not have to commit to your early action school
  • You can still apply to more than one school through early action or regular decision


  • You don’t have as much time to prepare your essay and application

What if you don’t get in:

No biggie. Sure, you just lost out on your first choice, but there’s something better on the horizon. Just keep applying! There are so many great public and private universities. The right fit will be out there for you.

But what do I think?

I have always been a fan of applying early action to a maximum of two “choice schools.” It’s the best of both worlds. You are still making a bold statement that says, “This is my dream school”, but you also have the luxury of comparing it to another school. Financially it just makes more sense for the average student. Also, if you do get in you avoid the mega stress of writing 2953534 supplemental essays about your life journey. And if you get deferred, no stress. You will automatically be reentered in the regular decision candidates for most institutions. Sometimes you won’t be so lucky though. In that case, you still have the whole final semester of high school ahead of you for essays, applications, and admission decisions.

Still unsure what to do? Try checking out College Confidential

It’s a great resource for incoming students and parents to communicate with each other. Many parents find it to be a wonderful source for calming the anxiety and asking questions that the schools are too busy or too secretive to answer. For example: if your kid is applying to a specialized program and waiting to hear back if they were accepted, it’s nice to be able to ask other parents with similar students what they’re experience is. Have they heard yet? Did their child get accepted too? Did you just find your son or daughter their first friend in the program? It’s a great tool for many things.

Also, check out advice from college consultant, Susan Goodkin, on the LA Tutors blog.
Susan is the Executive Director of the California Learning Strategies Center, where she advises on college admissions for Ivy League universities.

Another helpful resource: RESEARCH!
Check out the blogs of the colleges you’re interested in applying to. What is their stance on early decision applications? Do they allow for early action applicants too? Are they a single-choice early action school? Rude. Only few universities put these kind of limitations on students. Most schools have become very progressive and adapted multiple early admissions options for students, but each school is truly unique in their choice.

Do they have a preference between early action or early decision applicants? Is there a higher acceptance rate for one over the other? Do they gauge your interest in based on your application deadline? This is important. This is your future. Take the time to learn.

For example, Princeton University offers Admissions Publications that you can sift through and look for clues or a Student Blog that offers personal insight from current undergrads.

At Harvard they offer The Crimson: Admission Blog for prospective students. Articles range from discrimination during the application process to how much emotion should be involved in the application.

Schools are truly there to guide you in your journey. Use them as a resource. Plan ahead and RESEARCH till you’re blue in the face. This is your future. Make it a priority to find the best path for yourself. And write a spectacular essay!

For pointers on this important part of the application process, check out my latest blog on college essay pro tips.

About LA Tutors 123

LA Tutors 123 is a premier in-person and online private tutoring company based in Beverly Hills, CA. If you have specific questions or want a personalized plan, reach out to us here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

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