Unlocking Opportunities: The Key Benefits of Applying Early to College

31/10/202316 minute read
Unlocking Opportunities: The Key Benefits of Applying Early to College

Imagine securing your spot at your dream college and easing the stress of college application season. Early applications are the key to making this dream a reality. 

As you embark on your college journey, it's crucial to understand the various early application types and how they can benefit you. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the benefits of the different early application types; Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and Restrictive Early Action (REA), to see how applying early can be a game-changer. Get ready for a smoother ride through college admissions!

Understanding Early Application Types

Early applications are a way to let your dream schools know that you're super enthusiastic about joining their ranks. There are a few common types to consider: Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and Restrictive Early Action (REA).

Early Application Types
Application TypeBinding?Application Deadline
Early DecisionYes - you have to enroll and withdraw all other offers1 November
Early ActionNo1 November
Restrictive Early ActionYes - only for other early applications. You can still apply for through regular decision1 November

Early Decision (ED)

Let's start with Early Decision. When you apply through early decision, you're making a solemn promise that if you're accepted, you'll attend that particular college, no matter what. This means you must withdraw all other college applications and commit to that one school.

Why would anyone do this? Well, if you have a top-choice school, ED can be a strategic move. It tells the college you're their biggest fan, and in return, they might just be more inclined to say "yes."

Key Characteristics

  • Binding agreement: Acceptance means you must enroll and withdraw all other applications.
  • Expressed interest: Shows the college you're certain it's your top choice.
  • Application deadlines: ED deadlines typically fall around November 1st.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Because of the binding nature of Early Decision, you’re clearly showing your dedication to your top choice college. You’re telling your dream school that it is the top choice for you, as opposed to just one of your top choices.
  • Cons: The binding nature can complicate financial aid negotiations and it limits your flexibility because you would be required to decline admissions offers from other schools.
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Early Action (EA)

Now, let's talk about Early Action. Early Action is non-binding, which means you can apply to multiple colleges through this route and still consider other offers even if you're accepted. It's a more flexible choice, which is fantastic if you're keeping your options open.

Key Characteristics:

  • Non-binding agreement: If accepted, you're not obliged to enroll.
  • Application deadlines: Early Action deadlines typically fall around November 1st.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: You can still apply to other universities however you’d like.
  • Cons: This option might not be as commonly offered by colleges as Early Decision.
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Restrictive Early Action (REA)

Some colleges offer Restrictive Early Action. This is non-binding like Early Action, but there's a twist. With Restrictive Early Action, you're usually limited in the number of other colleges you can apply to early.

This means that while you can still apply to other colleges through regular decision, you can’t apply to any other university through early action or early decision. It's not as strict as Early Decision but gives your top choice a bit more priority.

Key Characteristics:

  • Non-binding agreement: If accepted, you're not obliged to enroll.
  • Limited early applications: You typically can’t apply to other colleges early.
  • Application deadlines: Early Action deadlines typically fall around November 1st.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: You can show your top-choice university your enthusiasm while still having back up options through regular decision.
  • Cons: More restrictive than early action as you won’t be able make any other early applications.
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Binding vs. Non-Binding Commitments

Now, let's break down the binding vs. non-binding nature of these applications. This is a crucial aspect to understand when considering early applications.

Binding Applications (Early Decision)

When you apply through Early Decision, you're making a commitment to attend that college if accepted. This is a significant decision, so it's vital to be 100% sure that the school you choose is your absolute first choice. ED can be a strategic move if you're confident about your top pick and ready to seal the deal.

Non-Binding Applications (Early Action)

On the flip side, Early Action and Restrictive Early Action are non-binding. This means you have the freedom to apply to multiple colleges and keep your options open. You won't be locked into a single school. These are an excellent choice if you want to get your applications in early without making a final commitment.

Benefits of Applying Early

Applying early has multiple benefits and sets you apart from the competition. Here’s why applying early might just be the boost you need:

1. Increased Admission Chances

Let's start with the big one – your chances of getting into your dream college. Applying early can significantly increase your odds. When you apply through an early admissions program, you often have a higher acceptance rate compared to regular decision applicants.

The table below shows the acceptance rates for Harvard, the U Penn, the UVA, and the MIT, segmented by regular and early application submissions.

Regular vs Early Application Acceptance Rates (Class 2027)
UniversityRegular Acceptance RateEarly Application Acceptance Rate
U Penn2.4%15%

2. Demonstrating Commitment and Interest

Now, this is where applying early really shines. It's your chance to let the college know its your top choice.

By applying early, you're telling the college that you're seriously committed and interested. It's like writing a love letter to your dream school. This commitment can be a strong signal that you're a great fit for their community, which admissions officers really like to see.

Your commitment can have a positive impact on the admissions decision. Colleges want to admit students who genuinely want to be there. So, if you show your love early, they might just love you back with an acceptance letter.

3. Stress Reduction and Better Planning

College application season can be a rollercoaster of emotions. Applying early can help make the ride a bit smoother.

By applying early, you'll receive your acceptance decision sooner. No more nail-biting and restless nights. You can relax and focus on other aspects of your senior year. Less stress is a win for everyone.

Having that early admission letter in hand gives you more time to prepare for your transition to college. You can research housing options, apply for scholarships, and even start thinking about your major. The extra time can make the move to college a breeze.

4. Potential for Better Financial Aid

College can be expensive, and every bit of financial aid helps.

Some colleges offer exclusive scholarships to early applicants. So, by applying early, you might just snag some extra financial aid. Who doesn't love free money? Plus, with an early acceptance, you'll have a better idea of your financial aid package earlier, making it easier to plan for college expenses.

Advice From a Former Admissions Officer: 'Start Early'

Common Early Application Mistakes to Avoid

It’s important you make the most out of your early application. Avoid these common pitfalls that could negatively affect your chances:

  • Failing to research application options after they’ve selected which schools to apply to
  • Losing track of application timelines and deadlines
  • Overlooking financial aid considerations when making EA/ED decisions
  • Submitting application materials that don’t demonstrate a strong fit and genuine motivation for attending the selected school

Tips for Applying Early:

Here are some straightforward tips for avoiding common mistakes — ensuring you’re optimizing your chances for admission.

  • Research the application options and policies, and financial aid policies, at the schools you’re applying to.
  • Set up a system and calendar for tracking application timelines and deadlines.
  • Make informed decisions or get help from a college counselor or a qualified admissions Advisor about the best application options and strategies for your personal circumstances and top-choice schools.
  • Submit strong and thoroughly prepared application materials — highlight your strengths, spotlight why you’re a good fit for the school, and demonstrate compelling motivations and genuine enthusiasm for getting accepted.
  • Schedule SAT or ACT testing if your schools or strategy require it, and leave ample time to prepare and research effective SAT prep or ACT prep strategies.

Working with a Counselor: Crimson Success Stories

Applying Early increases your chances of acceptance, and working with a Crimson strategist can increase it further. Students working with Crimson are 7 times more likely to gain admission to their dream university!

Let’s explore how two Crimson students, Luiz and Talia, accepted the challenge of applying early and combined this with a holistic admissions strategy to succeed beyond their own expectations.

Talia's Story (UPenn, Early Decision)

In Talia’s case, her Crimson strategist used a very personalized approach to help Talia identify her top choices based on Talia’s interest in physics and passion for competitive fencing. In the end, that left Talia with primarily two highly suitable options: UNC or UPenn.

Talia in front of UPenn building with UPenn sweatshirt

Talia’s dilemma was that UNC, with a 43% overall acceptance rate, and ranked 22 in the US, did not offer the same level of opportunity as UPenn, with a 4.1% overall acceptance rate, and ranking in the top 10 schools in the US.

But getting into UPenn would require exceptional SAT/ACT scores and overcoming a daunting acceptance rate — with the rate for regular round applicants hovering just under 3%. By contrast, applicants in early rounds at UPenn had a much higher 15% acceptance rate, something that got the attention of Talia’s strategist.

Armed with these insights and encouraged by her Crimson strategist, Talia challenged herself to complete and submit a very strong UPenn application by November 1st. After Talia succeeded in submitting her UPenn application in time for the early round, she received an offer to matriculate to UPenn as a Vagelos Molecular Life Science Scholar and was also recruited to the fencing team.

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Luiz's Story (Yale, Early Action)

Luiz came to Crimson with a goal of getting into an Ivy League school, with Harvard and Yale at the top of his list of “reach” schools. His academic and extracurricular profiles stood out in depth and consistency, but there were some challenges to contend with if he wanted to get into one of these very competitive schools.

Working with his Crimson strategist, Luis decided to take on the dual challenge of significantly improving his SAT scores, especially in the Reading section, while also committing to applying in early rounds, to take advantage of the Early Action application option at Yale. Applying in the Early Action round promised a 10% acceptance rate, compared to the Regular Decision round with a mind-boggling 3.2% acceptance rate!

Luiz not only submitted his application to Yale in time for Early Action, but with help from his Crimson strategist and mentors submitted a stand out application that elicited a remarkable response from the Admissions Officer:

Luiz! Welcome to Yale! It was a true honor to read your incredible application. That is among the very best I have ever reviewed…I learned so much [from your essay]…and appreciated your reflections very deeply.

Both Talia and Luiz were aiming for some of the most selective US universities. By combining a strong admissions strategy with the support of a Crimson Advisor and committing to an early-round application strategy, both reached their goal, highlighting the benefits of a holistic approach to an early application strategy.

What Makes Crimson Different

Final Thoughts

Applying early really can help, offering a pivotal boost to an applicant’s chances for admission, especially at elite universities and when aligned with the right individualized approach. That said, early application policies vary, and some include significant commitments, making it imperative to understand the nuances, weigh possible drawbacks, and make informed decisions aligned with your individual goals, readiness, and circumstances.

If you want help planning your success story, we encourage you to start early, if possible, and decide if getting help from a Crimson Advisor makes sense for your college journey. To learn more about how we can help, book a free consultation. Together let’s explore your potential and put you on your personal path to success.