In an earlier blog, we covered the potential perils of electing to apply early decision. For those not ready to commit to the binding contract of an early decision application, early action and rolling admissions can offer many of the same benefits with a good deal more flexibility.

Early action comes in two varieties, restrictive and non-restrictive, and knowing which category your institutions of interest fall under is an essential first step. The restrictive option means that you can only apply early to that one school. Non-restrictive early action means that you are free to apply to as many schools as you like, just as during the normal cycle. You will receive a decision from your early action school in mid-December rather than having to wait until early April with your regular admission peers. Yet, the potential solace of enjoying Christmas break with an acceptance under your belt is only a secondary reason to go down this road.

One of the distinct advantages of applying early action is that, typically, your odds of admission will be significantly increased. At some selective schools, the difference between the early action acceptance rate and the general acceptance rate is substantial. For example, Dickinson College accepts 67% of their early action applicants versus just 44% of the general population. Even uber-selective schools such as Stanford and Notre Dame grant significant favor to early action applicants.

If increased admissions odds aren’t enough to entice you to consider early action, perhaps our financial argument will carry more weight. Quite simply, more merit aid money is stacked in schools’ coffers in the fall than will remain by the time the regular April deadline rolls around. Therefore, scholarship offers can be more generous to EA applicants than those applying as part of the normal cycle. Further, unlike with early decision, EA applications have the advantage of being able to apply to any other school they please if the offer of aid is less-than-satisfactory. This, of course, means that schools have more of an incentive to make aggressive offers to desirable applicants. Applying early within an institution’s rolling admissions cycle offers a similar advantage.

Our advice when it comes to early action or applying early to a school with rolling admissions is that there is rarely a downside. You might end up improving your admissions chances and walking away with more merit money. If not, you’re free to move on and continue shopping for the school of your dreams, having at least already gained the experience of going through the full application process.

Michael Trivette
A former admissions professional and adjunct faculty member, Michael knows firsthand what students need in order to be successful on a college campus. His experience in college admissions, enrollment management, intercollegiate athletics, student support services, student life and other areas, allows him to help students transition smoothly into the best good-fit colleges.