Difference between early action, early decision, and regular decision in MS in US

The decision to study abroad is crucial and requires investment in terms of money, time and concentrated efforts. This decision should be promptly followed by outlining university preferences through detailed research and arriving at a list of prospective universities. The next logical step is to start applying to universities but before beginning the application process, one should be aware of the various options. There are three options- early action, early decision, and regular decision. Applying early requires a lot of preparation, so be sure that you are applying to an institution that you surely want to attend else you can always opt for regular decision.

To choose any option, you must be clear about what each option entails and then go ahead with applying to universities.

What is early action?

Early action allows you to apply for early admission to universities. Early action (EA) requires students to submit their application much before the standard dates to apply and hence the decision of the university also comes earlier. For example- students must apply by November 1 instead of January 1 and will be informed of the decision by mid-December instead of April 1. (The dates vary from college to college.) There are two types of early action programs: restrictive early action and non-restrictive early action. Restrictive EA means candidates can apply to only one early action institution and no institutions for early decision, while there are no such restrictions on a non-restrictive early action. Regardless, the applicant is still permitted to reject any offer of admission in both types of early action

Advantages of Early action

  • Non-binding and allows comparison for financial aid: The greatest advantage of early action is that it gives all the benefits of an early decision, and the non-binding nature ensures you can compare multiple financial aid offers and will not be stuck attending the institution.
  • Ensures peace of mind: If you are anxious on account of college admissions then applying early action is the best way to reduce stress. Under early action, universities declare results earlier than the standard result dates and one can be relieved after securing admission in a university of their choice
  • If your academic profile is excellent: If you already have outstanding grades, interesting extracurricular activities and brilliant GRE scores, applying early action saves you from the competition of applying in regular applicant pool. Also, applying to a college’s early action program can help candidates with strong applications to stand out from the crowd.

Disadvantages of early action

  • If your grades and test scores are likely to improve: If you apply early but your junior year grades weren’t the best, you could be hurting yourself by not waiting to see if your fall semester grades show improvement. The same applies to standardized test scores. If everything is ready to go but you’re waiting for fall ACT or GRE scores, applying before they are available can diminish your chances of admission. If your grades are on the upswings, you will do better applying when you know your fall term.
  • Endure stiffer competition and higher expectations: Many colleges are swamped with impressive early admissions candidates and hence they may take a harder line on their admission which can lead to stiffer competition and raised expectations

What is an early decision?

Early decision is a choice made by the student to indicate to the university that the candidate considers that institution as his or her premiere choice. Early decision is a binding promise to attend that particular university incase their admission is accepted. For example- under early decision students apply by November 1 or November 15, and will receive their admission result usually on December 15 (dates may vary from college to college). In lieu of receiving an early admit the student and parents must sign a pledge that, if accepted, they must attend that university. The student must also withdraw all other applications, and not accept any other offers of admission.

Advantages of early decision

  • Increases chances of acceptance: Your chances of being accepted under early decision are higher as compared to a regular decision candidate. The most selective colleges admit 25% to 50% of their total students from the early admissions pool. In recent years, almost 40% of freshmen at Ivy League schools have been early admissions applicants. High admission rates for early applicants are attributed to two factors: Firstly, candidates who apply “early” are particularly strong applicants with very persuasive transcripts; secondly, students who apply early are dedicated to an institution and match the institution’s high admission standards.
  • Sufficient time to plan: The student and family have more time to plan about moving to college and arranging for financial aid and housing facilities.

Disadvantages of early decision

  • Early decision is restrictive: Critics of the program argue that binding an applicant who is just eighteen, to a single institution is unnecessarily restrictive. If accepted, they will have to withdraw applications from other schools, and cannot submit new applications.
  • Losing out on favorable financial aid: Candidates who want financial aid are unable to compare financial aid offers from different colleges due to the restrictive nature of the early decision. Do not feel pressurized into applying early decision if finances are a concern.
  • The Early decision does not guarantee admission: Though it is perceived that it is easier to get in with an early decision, the answer is not always in the affirmative because the quantifiable criteria used to evaluate candidates like GPA, test scores, etc. are the same.

What is Regular decision?

Regular decision means the normal process by which students apply as per the published deadlines, with the promise of receiving an admission decision by April 1. Some colleges will give admission decisions well before April 1, but the student is under no obligation to make a decision about whether to attend until the standard response date of May 1.

Advantages of regular decision

  • More time to work on your essays: Your essays will probably be better in December than in October. By waiting it out, you have more time to get experts and seniors proofread your essays, and make necessary changes to enhance the content.
  • More time to figure out where you want to apply: A mistake that students make is applying Early Decision to a university they have not sufficiently researched. You must consider academic programs, cost, and outside information before pouncing on an ED school. The last thing you want to do is end up regretting your “perfect” school, and by applying regular decision, you will have enough time to make up your mind.
  • First-semester senior year grades are better: If your GPA is better by factoring in first semester grades, then it is better to apply later, and increase chances of getting into your dream school under regular decision.
  • You need a better financial aid package: If you apply under ED, you have less flexibility of comparing financial aid packages from different schools. A lot of schools nowadays let you decline an ED offer if the financial aid isn’t good enough but make sure you check for this option on the school’s website before applying.
  • You stand a better chance of getting admission: The strongest students in the applicant pool apply earlier in the cycle because they are more prepared for the process. If you are unsure of getting in, make sure to check the admit rates for the EA and RD cycles separately. Also, under RD, you can apply to as many colleges as you like and are not committed to attending the university from which you have received admission.

Disadvantages of regular decision

  • Less time to prepare: Since you receive admission much later than an early decision, there is less time to prepare before the term starts in terms of accommodation and finance.
  • Regular decision is not devoid of competition: It is a myth that regular decision is less competitive. The longer you delay your application, the harder it is to get into a school. Your application is pitted against significant competition.
  • Fewer seats are available: Every university has a fixed number of seats available for the course, and if the maximum has been allotted to early action and early decision applicants, it means fewer seats will be available for regular decision applicants making competition fiercer and chances of admission narrower.

Thus, early application options are great for students who know where they want to attend, have brilliant academic credentials and fulfill all application requirements ahead of deadlines. However, you should not feel pressurized to apply early if you are unprepared simply because of the perceived beliefs that early applications lead to positive results. You can always opt for regular decision and get admission. Every student application is unique so take the time to think over your application options, weigh the pros and cons and make sure you feel completely confident about your choice of application before you take your decision.

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