As students enter senior year of high school and meet the pressures and anxiety that come along with applying to college, one question that must be considered is whether to apply to a college early. The most common way to apply to a college early is through early decision, in which a student commits, if accepted, to attending the college to which he or she is applying early.
In recent years, however, a number of universities have instituted early action, a program that allows a student to apply to that college early without making a binding decision to enroll. Although these programs vary in specifics, as not all allow students to also apply to other schools early, non-binding early action overall is becoming an attractive application option for many high school seniors.
[See these student tips for managing the college application process.]
Here are three situations where it would make sense to apply to college via early action:
1. As a non-binding alternative to early decision: Applying early decision can often provide a noticeable bump to a students' chances of getting into a given school – especially if you are on the proverbial borderline. If you have a clear-cut No. 1 choice early in your senior year and want to maximize your chances of getting into that dream school, applying early can help.
However, the binding nature of early decision programs has its drawbacks. For one, students in need of financial aid will not be able to compare offers from multiple schools and will, for the most part, be stuck with just one offer.
Second, because early decision is binding, students who are admitted under such programs often have little recourse if they change their mind. Applying early action gives you many of the benefits of early decision, but the non-binding nature means you can still compare multiple financial aid offers and will not be stuck attending the institution.
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2. To improve peace of mind: If you tend to stress out more than most and have been dreading the college admissions letter season considerably, applying early action may be the best way to make your senior year of high school as enjoyable as possible.
Even if none of the schools on your list offering early action programs are your first choice, it may still be helpful to know that you have already been accepted somewhere that you are happy attending. This will allow you to avoid having your entire senior year become stressful.
If multiple schools on your list have non-exclusive early action programs, meaning you can apply to more than one school early action, then you can take advantage of an even better situation.
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3. If your application profile is already top-notch: One reason commonly given for not applying early to college is that your application profile could still use a semester of buffing. This could be because of a lower-than-ideal GPA, a lack of extracurricular activities or mediocre SAT scores.
However, if you already have top-notch grades, a generous helping of interesting extracurriculars and extremely high SAT or ACT scores, it may be useful for you to apply early action to one of your top choices so you can avoid competing in the regular applicant pool. If you already stand out as you enter your senior year and have done thorough research regarding the colleges you would like to attend, identify whether or not any of those colleges offer an early action program.
If they do, getting your name in before other students can significantly help you gain admission to the college of your choice.