Understand Early College Admission Programs

What is Early College Admission?

Early college admission allows high school seniors to apply and receive an acceptance letter before the regular admission deadline.  Application deadlines for early admission programs are at the beginning of  October and   admission decisions are returned by mid-December.

By applying for early admissions you demonstrate a decisive desire to attend a school which may slightly improve your chances of acceptance.    You’ll also receive an admission decision sooner.  Instead of waiting until spring for the admission verdict you will know in December.  This should help to reduce your “worry/stress factor” and allow you to focus on enjoying your senior year.  Early admissions will also decrease the number of applications you will need to complete.  Fewer applications means fewer application fees and less time spent filling out forms.  As a side benefit, if accepted, you’ll have more time to prepare for your college transition. But, if your favorite school rejects you, then you’ll have time to find another ‘favorite.’


This graphic from the NACAC website compares various admission plans.
This graphic, from the NACAC website, compares various admission plans.

Who Should Apply for Early Admission?

There are two general forms of early admission programs: binding early decision and early action.  With either program you must meet the minimal requirements for admissions and it is likely that you’ll need to be a strong candidate to be selected.

If you are interested in applying using the binding early decision option then you should be absolutely certain that that school is where you belong. A binding early admission program is exactly that — binding.  You agree, that if accepted, you will attend and that you will withdraw all other college applications.  You should be absolutely certain of your choice before you submit your application.  If you have not properly researched your school or are prone to whimsical, romantic or immature notations regarding that school then early decision is probably not a good option for you.

Is There a Downside to Early Admission?

The pros and cons of early college admission may not be completely obvious.  On the pro side, you receive an early admission notification and your chance of admission (if you are strong candidate) may be slightly better then if you applied via regular admissions.

On the con side, if financing your college education is a concern then you may want to weigh the early decision option carefully.  Committing yourself to a single school won’t allow you the option of selecting the school with the best financial aid offer.  And, there is little incentive for a school who accepts you for early decision to offer an extensive financial aid package.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are an early admission “shoe-in” for your favorite school.  You might be the “best and brightest” student at Podunk High School,  but everyone else applying early admission is likely to be the “best and brightest” at their high school.  It will be competitive, so have a backup plan ready.  If you don’t make the cut you won’t have much time to meet the regular admission deadlines at other competitive schools.

Here is a short video from US News and World report describing early decision programs and their implications:

Who Offers Early Admission?

There are about 450 colleges that offer early admission plans.  These schools tend to have competitive admissions. Each school’s early admission plan will be different.  You’ll want to take the time to carefully read the requirements and speak to an admission counselor to see if the plan is right for you.

General Types of Early College Admission Plans

Colleges offer early admission options  because they can lock-in strong students who really want to attend.  This helps to relieve the stress in the Admissions office as they work to meet their “body-count” requirements for the new Freshman class.

Early admission plans come in three basic flavors: Early Decision, Early Action and Single-Choice.   Each school will have their own deadlines; most will be before mid- November.  You will like receive an admissions decision by the end of December.

Here is a list of common attributes for each early admission plan:

Early Decision Plans:

  • These plans are binding if you are accepted.
  • There is one “out.”  If the financial aid a school offers you does not meet your needs then you may decline the admissions offer. But, be sure to ask about this.
  • You can apply to only one early decision plan.
  • If you are accepted you are required to withdraw all other college applications.
  • Some schools may offer two early decision programs.  There will be an early decision 1 and early decision 2.  Early decision 2 has a later application and notification period than early decision 1.

As an example, here are descriptions of Vanderbilt  and Rice University’s early decision plans.

Early Action Plans:

  • These are not binding plans. You can decline an acceptance.
  • You can apply to multiple early action colleges.
  • Some plans will allow you to accept the admissions offer in the spring.

As an example, here are descriptions of  Colorado College’s and SMU’s early decision and action plans.

Single-Choice or Restrictive Early Action Plans:

  • You are allowed to apply to only one single-choice early action plan.
  • If wish, you may to apply to other colleges using regular admissions.
  • Some plans will give you until the spring to accept their offer of admission.

As an example, here are descriptions of Princeton  and Stanford University’s single-choice early action plans.

To summarize, a strong candidate who has made a mature decision to attend a particular school can take advantage of early admissions opportunities.  Doing so will improve their chances of admission and reduces the time and expense of applying to other schools.  Be sure to contact a college admission counselor to learn about the details of their early admission programs and what your chances of success might be.

Jennifer Caballero is the Director of College Guidance at Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, TX.  MMA is an all boys private college preparatory boarding school. For more information about MMA visit our website: http://www.mma-tx.org