Over the past few years, a growing number of colleges have begun offering early admission options. On the surface it sounds like a great idea: Apply early (usually by Nov. 1), get a decision before Christmas, and spend the rest of senior year relaxing and planning how to decorate your dorm room.
What's more, some schools admit a higher percentage of applicants who go through the early admissions process — so your chances might be better than if you wait until the regular deadline, usually Feb. 1 or later.
However, going the early admission route isn't for everybody. Before you lock yourself into an early choice, you need to understand exactly what you're signing up for. There are several types of early admission options, and some colleges offer more than one.
Early Decision: You may apply early decision to only one school. If you're accepted, you must accept the offer and attend that school.
Early Action: Apply early to one or more schools. Even if you're accepted, you can still apply to additional schools during regular admissions. You may choose to go anywhere you are accepted.
Single-Choice Early Action: Apply early to only one school. You may still apply to other colleges during the regular admission period, and attend anywhere you are admitted.
Regular Decision: You must submit your application by this deadline. It is non-binding.
Rolling Admission: Some schools simply set a large window of time during which they accept applications; you can apply at any point within that time frame. It is also non-binding.
No matter when you apply and when you are accepted, you will need to make your final decision by May 1. That's the date when colleges throughout the nation expect to receive all student decisions. It's known as the "universal reply date."
So why not go ahead and get it over with early? Well, lots of reasons. A lot can change between Nov. 1 and May 1. Students may choose a different major or fall in love with a different college after a campus visit. Family financial circumstances can change, and what had seemed affordable may not be by the time tuition payments are due. Many students need a few extra months to polish their essays and résumés, or to retake the SAT or ACT to gain higher scores.
Finally, going the early decision route requires that students be very sure of their choice. Although some early admission options don't lock students into attendance, others do. Read the fine print and make sure you know what you're signing up for before you press "submit."
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, and financial aid, and find the college that's right for them.