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6 Reasons Why You Need To Apply to College Early

apply early to college

The early bird gets the worm! This is an adage that high school seniors are well-advised to take heed where college applications are concerned. There are plenty of benefits to the early submission of college applications, although we must also warn that it is not for everyone. 

Applying for college early is also about the right timing – when to start working on the required documents and when to submit them. Students and their parents have to work with teachers, guidance counselors, and principals in increasing the chances of acceptance to their preferred colleges or universities.  Indeed, it is a collective and concerted team effort! 

There is also the right strategy in applying for college using the early decision or early action options. You cannot just submit your application without ensuring that everything is in order or your grades are worth looking from admissions officers! You should then plan for college as early as possible, say, your junior year. 

Discover the 6 Reasons Why You Need To Apply to College Early using these page jumps!

Higher Odds of Acceptance
Greater Attention from Admissions Officers
Better Chances of Getting Sufficient Financial Aid
Secure Your Slot Early
Lower Anxiety Level
More Preparation Time


Higher Odds of Acceptance 

We must first emphasize that college admission is not exactly the dog-eat-dog competition you’ve probably envisioned it to be! There are less than a hundred higher education institutions in the United States with a highly selective admissions process. 

In a Pew Research study involving 1,364 four-year colleges and universities, only 17 admitted less than 10% of its applicants in 2017. These included prominent names like Northwestern (9.2%), Yale (6.9%), Harvard (5.2%), and Stanford (4.7%). Schools with higher admission rates but still uses a highly selective process include the University of California, Berkeley (17.1%), UCLA (16.1%), and Georgetown University (15.7%). 

(Many of these schools were embroiled in college admissions scandals where parents were accused of giving bribes to school officials for their children’s admission. But it doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the school’s overall reputation.) 

These highly selective schools accounted for only 3.4% of the Pew Research study, and their student body accounted for a mere 4.1% of total enrollment. But 53.3% of the schools admitted 75% of their applicants, and these schools included many equally prestigious names, such as Virginia Tech, St. John’s University in New York, and the University of Missouri at Columbia. 

There’s also the fact that open-admission colleges accept most, if not all, high school graduates. These include Colorado Christian College, Indiana Wesleyan University, and Pamlico Community College. 

The bottom line: You don’t have to feel pressured about applying to college early!  Unless, of course, you’re aiming for colleges and universities with ultra-low admission rates

In this case, you should apply to college early as it can significantly increase your odds of acceptance. This is particularly true in early decision (ED) application since it’s a binding commitment wherein colleges anticipate a 100% yield. 

Studies have shown that ED acceptance rates are about three to six times higher than the regular round. A few examples include: 

EA table

But not all early college applications are created equal! You have to carefully choose between two early admissions options – early decision and early action. Keep in mind that these have different terms and conditions, although their timelines are similar. Both of these options have November deadlines, and applicants will be informed about the admission decision by mid-December. 

Early decision (ED) is the most restrictive admission option because it’s a binding application. You’re making a binding commitment to enroll in the school upon admission. 

Remember that you’re only allowed one ED application to the school of your choice. If the said school accepts your application and offers sufficient financial aid, you’re obligated to push through with your admission. Again, the operative word phrase here is “a binding agreement.” 

Still, you can apply to other schools via their respective regular admission process even if you’ve taken the ED route. But once you’re accepted into your ED school, you’re required to withdraw all your other applications. 

When should you file an ED application? You should be certain that you want to attend said school. Have your finances in order, from tuition and miscellaneous expenses to room and board. Consider whether you and your parents can afford higher education in your preferred school. 

But just because you applied for ED doesn’t automatically mean that your school of choice will accept you! Your application can be accepted, deferred, or denied. You’re taking on a slight risk by taking the ED path for this reason. You must then have a good level of certainty that your application will pass muster. 

Some schools also have two ED deadlines – in November (ED I) and January or February (ED II), with the latter closer to the regular decision deadline. Both are binding, but ED II is more suitable for students who aren’t ready for ED I’s November deadline but are still committed to their ED application. ED II admission decisions are usually provided in February, several weeks before the notifications for regular decision are sent. 

Take note that you’re still eligible to submit an ED II application at another institution if your ED I application was deferred in your first preferred school. You can also apply under ED II if you’ve already applied to other schools within the early admission deadlines regardless of its outcome (i.e., admission or rejection). 

But if your ED I application was either deferred or rejected, you cannot apply to the same school under an ED II application. You have to choose another school. 

A few examples of prestigious schools with ED II deadlines are:

Colleges and universities benefit from their ED programs, too, as previously mentioned. The more spots they can fill through ED I and ED II, the higher their yield rate. The term “yield rate” refers to the computation of accepted students with a commitment to enrolment, and schools want a higher yield rate since it contributes to their prestige.  

The ED II round is also an opportunity for schools to reevaluate the number of students accepted during the regular decision round. The schools can also plan for housing arrangements and make other necessary adjustments. This is why ED rounds include stipulations requiring students with approved applications to make deposits within 30 days.  

Early action (EA) is different from ED because it’s a non-binding application. If your application is approved, you’re not obligated to attend the school. You can also apply to as many schools under the EA arrangement, but you will receive the admission decision in December. 

You may say yes to the positive admission decision immediately or wait until spring, even decline it if you so wish. You should inform your school of choice by May 1, the national response deadline, about your decision. You may also be required to make your deposit by then. 

If your application has been deferred, you still have a chance during the regular decision round – the school will consider it for acceptance then. But if it has been denied during the EA round, you won’t be able to attend since your application will not be considered during the regular application round. 

early college application - fact

There are several benefits to applying under the EA round. First, you can compare several schools since you’re not obligated to attend them even if you’ve been approved for admission. Second, you will make more informed financial decisions, particularly where total school fees are concerned. 

You may, for example, choose the school that offers a better financial package. You may alternatively use it during negotiations with another school with higher fees, but you want to attend, nonetheless. 

Between ED and EA, many experts suggest choosing EA because of its non-binding nature. You will hear sooner from the schools than with the regular decision round, usually two to three months sooner. You are free to choose your school, unlike with ED. 

There’s another type of EA application – restrictive early action or single-choice early action (SCEA). Just as with EA, SCEA is also a non-binding application but with a difference. You cannot apply to other schools under the EA or ED schemes until you have received the admission decision from the SCEA school. 

But you are allowed to submit EA applications to public or state universities and apply to other schools through the regular decision round. You also don’t have to give your final answer to the EA school until spring. 

A few prestigious schools with SCEA programs are: 

In conclusion, prestigious schools have higher acceptance rates during the EA, ED, and SCEA rounds because of their desire to get crop cream! There’s also the matter of getting higher yields that, in turn, will translate to more prestige. The admissions officers are also less busy and more attentive to the student applications, as discussed below. 


Greater Attention from Admissions Officers 

Keep in mind that not all senior high school students will qualify or be confident enough to avail of the EA, ED, and SCEA schemes. As such, there will be a significantly less number of students applying under these three schemes than the regular decision round. 

In a 2019 Ivy Admission Statistics study, Harvard University received 5,919 EA/ED applications and 31,388 regular applications. The significant discrepancy between these types of applications was also observed for top schools like Princeton University (3,850 EA/ED; 23,440 regular), Yale University (4,693 EA/ED; 25,544 regular), and Brown University (3,043 (EA/ED; 27,354 regular). 

During the EA/ED rounds, admissions officers can give more attention to the applications because they aren’t overwhelmed by the number! Your application documents will likely get more evaluation time than if you submitted during the regular round. Your odds of acceptance can increase, too, provided that your application packet is in order. 

But when the regular round applications come in, schools hire seasonal college admission readers to keep up with the significant increase in applications. According to job descriptions, seasonal college admission readers attend a one-day reader training before they commit to working between 20 and 40 hours of work a week. Their work involves reviewing between 500 and 1,000 freshman applications during the regular round applications, usually from early December until early March. 

What does this mean for your application? It’s likely to fall into the hands of the seasonal readers who can be overwhelmed and overworked from the sheer number of paperwork involved! Your application may have lower odds of catching their attention and, with it, your chances of admission. 

Applying under either the EA or ED schemes will also increase your interest quotient (IQ). You’re essentially telling the admissions officer that you’re not just qualified to become a future student, but you’re also completely committed to enrollment. This is true even in the EA application since it’s a declaration of commitment, too. 

Legacies, international students, and athletes are well-advised to apply under the EA and ED schemes, too. Prestigious schools want to build well-rounded student bodies. Their admissions officers will look for potential students who can fill institutional needs, such as varsity athletes and subject specialists. Your decision to apply during the regular round will decrease your admission chance since the school has already met its institutional needs. 


Better Chances at Obtaining Financial Aid

There has been a downward trend in year-over-year tuition, and many colleges are suspending tuition hikes or offering tuition discounts. But financing a college education is still a burden for many American families! The average tuition and fees at private ranked colleges are at $35,087, although the costs at public schools are much lower, between $9,687 and $21,184. 

But that’s not the entire story, fortunately. Even prestigious universities can be fairly affordable because of the availability of scholarships and grants. Yale University, for example, has a $57,700 sticker price for its 2020-2021 tuition and fees. But when needs-based grants are considered, the average cost amounts to just $18,000 based on the previous year’s data.  

What does it have to do with your EA or ED application? Keep in mind that schools use the early rounds in their financial planning since their deadlines are set at around the same time as priority scholarship deadlines. The schools can then evaluate their potential students’ financial needs and offer sufficient financial aid to early applicants.  

Furthermore, many schools want to avoid their potential students’ withdrawal from enrollment due to financial reasons. Their decision-makers will then make the price of education more affordable through scholarships and grants, among other financial aid. 

If you applied for EA in your preferred schools, you would also be able to find out about the financial packages sooner. You can then start researching your financial aid options and meet with your financial aid counselor sooner. 

But there’s a risk that ED applicants have to accept where financial aid is concerned. The risk: Less college financial aid. This is because an ED student who has been approved for admission has to accept the school’s proposed financial aid, whether he likes it or not. This also means ignoring better offers from other colleges and universities. 

Generally speaking, ED acceptance is binding, but there’s one exception to the rule, although it isn’t common. If the financial aid award offered by an ED school isn’t sufficient to make the cost of education affordable, the student can withdraw. Again, this isn’t common – a NACAC report states that 87% of ED students during the fall 2016 admission cycle accepted their respective school’s offer. 

If you’re unsure about your financial capacity for a specific school, you may want to consider filing under EA instead of ED for this reason. You will have more leeway and leverage with EA since it’s a non-binding application. 


Secure Your Slot Early 

Did you know that many schools fill nearly 50% of their freshman class in the EA and ED rounds? You’re missing out on the opportunity to get into your school of choice if you delay your EA/ED application! This is related to the schools’ desire to get a higher yield and build a well-rounded student body, as discussed in the second reason. 

If you wait until the regular admission round, your preferred schools have already filled up nearly half of the available slots for the admissions cycle! You’re at a disadvantage in many ways – you’re not only competing with more people, but you’re also competing for fewer available slots. Your odds of acceptance are decreasing the longer you wait to submit your application. 

Of course, applying ED or EA also means more competition from the cream of the crop! But if you have the right qualifications, you can beat the competition and get your favorable admission decision. 

There’s also the possibility that you can improve on your EA or ED application! You may be able to receive feedback if your application has good potential but requires work. You may be given time to tweak your essay or improve your test scores, for instance. You will have plenty of time for these tweaks, too, since it’s still early in the admission timeline.  


Lower Anxiety Level 

The college application process can be filled with anxiety over everything, from gathering your papers to making the essays. Every step can be filled with dread and doubt, a rollercoaster of emotions that can take a toll on students. 

But applying early to college can reduce the anxiety associated with the process! It won’t eliminate the dread and doubt because the final decision isn’t in your hands. Still, applying early means decreasing the duration of being on tenterhooks.  You can enjoy the remaining months of your senior year to the fullest, too. 

If you apply early, you will get your answer by December. However, if you wait for the regular decision round, you will not get a response until late March or early April. But if you’re waitlisted, you have to wait until June! These months could have been spent on more productive activities instead of worrying about college applications. 

You can also make a more intensive comparison between schools if you submit EA applications! By the time the enrollment period starts, you have made a definitive decision about your preferred school while your peers likely haven’t yet. 


More Preparation Time 

Since you already know where your college life will happen, you have more time to prepare for it! You can become acquainted with your EA or ED school before the academic year starts. 

You can take a campus tour, form chat groups with other incoming first-year students, and even become a summer intern. You can find out about the clubs, organizations, and sports that your college offers set your calendar for its regular and special events, and make early friends on campus, too. You won’t be such a greenhorn on your first day in college! 

And that’s not all! You can also have better opportunities at getting premium student housing for an affordable price, apply for a highly-coveted on-campus job, and get the best classes.  All these benefits because you chose to apply early and received your admission decision early, too.


Considering EA and ED applications? Get your answers right here!

What are the ideal attributes for higher odds of getting accepted under EA and ED applications? 

Remember that submitting EA and ED applications isn’t a small decision! You have to consult with your guidance counselor about it, particularly if you’re taking the ED route. You want to ensure that, indeed, you’re applying to your first-choice school for your reasons, not because of parental or peer pressure. 

You can’t also submit your early applications without taking a hard look at your academic records, among others. Students with the best odds of early acceptance possess the following: 

  • Strong grades and courses during their junior year 
  • A robust list of extracurricular activities and community engagement 
  • Strong scores in either the SAT or ACT 
  • Letters of recommendations from concerned teachers 

Applicants should also have well-written application essays. Keep in mind that your application essay can make or break your chances aside from your cover letter. These two documents can set you apart from the rest of the pack; many, if not most, of your fellow early applicants, will have the above-mentioned aspects in their portfolio, too. 

All of these elements should also be ready for submission before the deadline, usually by November 1. And when we say “ready for submission,” we mean perfection! If there’s something that isn’t up to par, such as a lower-than-expected standardized test score or grades, you must improve on them. Otherwise, you may just as well save your breath and apply during the regular round.  


What’s the recommended timeline for EA and ED applications? 

You may want to adopt this timeline to stay on track and submit it on time. 

  • During your junior year, specifically from January to June, you should take your college admission tests. You may want to visit a few colleges during your spring break, too. You should build your record, too, by getting good grades and being involved in extracurricular activities. 
  • From September to October, you can download the EA or ED application forms from your preferred schools in your senior year. You must start working on them as soon as possible, too, preferably with the guidance of your parents or guardians. You should also:
    • Request letters of recommendation from concerned individuals, such as your teachers, mentors, or counselors. Be sure to follow up to ensure that your references have written and sent them to your preferred colleges. 
    • Take the standardized test of your choice. You should take the SAT by October so that your scores will be available on the EA or ED deadlines in November. But this should be a last resort since it’s best to take the standardized test at the end of your junior year.
    • File your FAFSA forms (FAFSA opens on October 1) 

Depending on your preferred school’s deadline, you should submit your EA or ED application by November 1 at the earliest. You may also consider completing and submitting your applications for the regular round. You can think of it as your backup plan if you’re not accepted into an EA or ED program. 

You should also file your financial aid profile and complete the required financial aid forms. You must also prepare the supporting documents for financial aid applications. 

By December or January, you should compare the offers from the schools and choose from among them. 

Of all the application requirements, there are three that will demand most of your time and effort: your essay, SAT or acted scores, and letters of recommendation from credible references. Each one has its weight, so to speak, in the eyes of the admissions officer. Taken together, they can make or break your chances. 

While writing your essay seems like a fairly easy job, it isn’t when you consider its importance during the admissions process. You must then spend a few weeks, if not months, writing, editing, and rewriting it. You have to give yourself enough space to consider ideas that will make your essay catch admissions officers’ attention.  

You can start working on it during the summer break before your senior year. You’re well-advised to use the Common App essay prompts since these are excellent guide questions. Generally speaking, you have to write about yourself – who you are, what you aspire to be, and how you intend to make a difference in the world. 

As for your letters of recommendation, you should request them at least a month before the deadline for submission. You may also want to write a “brag sheet,” so your teachers, mentors, or counselors will have material as reference. 

Finally, you should study hard and well for the SAT or ACT! You don’t have to take it if you feel you’re not ready yet since your scores may be too low to qualify for early application. You may have to take it two to three times before achieving your target scores, and you have to start taking it at the end of junior year. 

Note: Many schools, including Harvard University and Cornell University, are waiving their SAT/ACT requirements for the 2020-2021 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the University of California has already phased out these admissions requirements for the next four years.  


What are the useful tips that can increase the odds of EA or ED acceptance?

Schools may have a smaller pool of EA and ED applications, but these students represent the crop’s cream. As such, competition for the slots will be fierce, and it’s something that students should remember when evaluating their applications. 

A few tips that can boost your chances in such an extremely competitive pool are: 

  • Proofread your application documents as many times as necessary. Even a simple mistake, single missing information, or a piece of incorrect information can jeopardize your application! You should then read through your application with an eagle eye several times, even have other people take a close look at it.
  • Check and double-check that your application’s supporting documents are in proper order. You must check in with your high school teachers and counselors as well as your preferred college’s admissions office to check that these documents have been sent and received, respectively.
  • Tailor your EA essays to the specific school! You must not submit a personal essay for Brown University to Columbia University, for example, because these are two different universities. You have to mention specific reasons for your desire to attend a certain school or write about your specific interests, including your plan of pursuing them in said college. 

Why the specificity? You only have one chance to demonstrate your strong interest in the school, and it’s through your essay! Don’t squander it – you may not have another chance. 

Applying early to college demands passion and perseverance from such young minds, but it is well worth the time, energy, and money! Think of it as getting an early start on your life success, and you will stick to it despite the challenges.