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6 Things to Consider Before Early Application Deadlines

It’s autumn again, and for high school seniors applying to college, that means early application deadlines are fast approaching. Many competitive colleges have Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) programs with deadlines of November 1st or November 15th.


Hopefully, if you’re planning to apply early, you’ve already done your research, and you understand all the rules and requirements. However, it’s worth double-checking your application and thinking over your decision once more before you actually hit submit.


Are you almost ready to turn in your ED or EA application? Take a moment to consider these tips from CollegeVine first.


Know the Rules

Before you submit any applications, make sure you know what type of early application program you’re entering and what the rules of that program are. Basically, ED programs are binding and single-choice. EA programs are non-binding, but they may or may not be single-choice or “restricted” (SCEA or REA) programs. ED II programs have a later deadline, but as ED programs, they’re still binding.


Depending upon which schools you apply to and under which plans, this can get confusing. It’s useful to think about what will happen under different combinations of circumstances and make sure you’re prepared — you don’t want to get stuck at a school you’d rather not attend.


For instance, if you apply ED to a college and are deferred to the Regular Decision or RD round, you’re released from your binding ED obligation. Among other things, this means that if you then apply to another school in the ED II round and are accepted, you’re bound by your agreement to attend the ED II school, even if your original ED school accepts you in the RD round.


ED and EA programs are the major options you’ll find among competitive colleges, but there are other possibilities in the realm of early college admissions, including rolling admissions, earlier consideration in athletic recruitment, and “likely letters” sent to certain students who will most likely be admitted. Check with your school for specifics, and read our posts ED vs EA vs REA and ED I vs. ED II: Frequently Asked Questions for a more detailed explanation of the process.


Understand Your Financial Aid Situation

If you’re depending upon financial aid to make college possible for you, this can make early applications a bit more complicated. Applying early gives you fewer opportunities to compare aid awards from different schools and potentially negotiate more aid from your preferred school.


In particular, applying through a binding ED program can put you in a tough position if you’re accepted, but aren’t offered enough aid. If it’s truly financially impossible for you to attend your ED school, you may be able to convince the school to release you from your ED agreement without further consequences, but it’s better to avoid that situation if possible.


Applying early based upon your hopes of getting enough aid comes with a certain amount of risk, and you should consider this risk before applying. If your financial situation is especially tricky, it may be a better idea to apply in the regular admission round and get a better look at all your options at once.


Also, keep in mind that applying to college early often means applying for financial aid and scholarships early as well. Make sure you have your financial documents in order and are ready to take care of these requirements by the deadlines. 


Research Recent Events and Changes

Even colleges that have been around for hundreds of years change all the time. New policies are adopted, campus facilities open or close or undergo renovations, and faculty members leave or arrive. Before you submit your application, do another quick round of research to check if anything major has changed since you decided to apply.


Think about the ways in which changes at your college might affect your plans there. For example, if a faculty member you’d been particularly excited about working with has just announced that they’re leaving the school, you might no longer be so sure that this school is your first choice. On the other hand, if the college just received a generous donation to expand undergraduate internship opportunities, this new resource might reinforce your decision to apply early.


Staying up to date regarding any changes or major events at your ED or EA college can also be helpful when it comes to your future interview. Your research will suggest natural topics for that conversation, and your knowledge of the school will reflect your genuine interest in attending.


Consider Visiting Before You Apply

If you haven’t visited your early-application school yet, now’s the time to do it. A visit can give you a much better idea of what everyday life is like on campus and whether that environment suits you. If you’re applying through a binding ED program, it’s even more important for you to feel sure about your choice.


Of course, it’s not always possible to visit a college, particularly with deadlines coming up so soon. If you can’t visit, check out the college’s admissions website for alternative ways to get to know the campus better. Some colleges even offer virtual tours.


For CollegeVine’s advice on planning an effective visit to your college of choice, check out our post How to Make the Most of a Campus Visit. If you’re not able to visit, we go over some alternatives in our post How Can I Figure Out a School’s Culture Without Visiting the Campus?



Get Personal Advice from Students

A college’s website and advertising materials can tell you a great deal about that school, but talking to a student, whether current or former, is the best way to get a personal, unfiltered perspective on what attending that school is really like. Many important factors in your college decision can’t be adequately expressed by numbers and statistics, but should still be considered before you commit to an early application.


Use your connections to find a student who can talk to you. Your family, friends, or guidance counselors may have a useful connection, or the college’s admissions office may be able to match you up with a student. Near-peer advising programs like the CollegeVine Mentorship Program can also help you connect with current students at the school where you’d like to apply early.


If you get to talk to a student, ask them about their likes and dislikes, the things they enjoy most about their school, and the things they find most challenging about attending. Encourage the student to talk about all the pros and cons, including the factors that aren’t flattering to the school, and to be open and honest about their opinions.


Take Early Application Agreements Seriously

Deciding to apply to a binding ED program is a serious commitment. If you’re accepted, you’re required to attend, even if you’ve changed your mind. You can only be released from this commitment under extraordinary circumstances, such as in the case of a family emergency or if you’re absolutely unable to afford it. Similarly, in both ED and SCEA or REA programs, you’re only allowed to apply to one college in that early round, regardless of other schools’ policies. 


Colleges reserve the right to reject your application if you violate the terms of your early application agreement. Since college admissions offices often do communicate with each other, the news may spread to the other colleges where you’ve applied. It’s possible that those colleges will choose to reject you as well; even if other colleges aren’t directly involved, they may worry about your commitment and dependability. 


Stick to your agreements as they’re written. If you’re not sure whether your early application plans comply with these agreements, talk to your guidance counselor and/or the college’s admissions office. It would be a shame for you to be rejected from a school you love because you’ve made a mistake — or because you’ve tried to game the system.


Early Application Deadlines for Top-Tier Colleges

Here’s a quick guide to early application types and deadlines for the top colleges in the United States, based on the newly released 2018 U.S. News and World Report rankings. As always, check with your college’s admissions office directly for the most up-to-date application details.


National Universities

  • University of Chicago: Early Action, November 1; Early Decision I, November 1; Early Decision II: November 2


National Liberal Arts Colleges


For More Assistance

Early college applications can be especially stressful — the early deadlines give you less time to perfect your application materials, and since you’ll generally apply early to your first-choice school, the outcome will be all the more important to you. It can help tremendously to get feedback from people who are knowledgeable about this process and can guide you through all its details.


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.