Difference Between Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision Deadlines for MS in US
If you’re considering studying in the United States, you might feel overwhelmed by the various admission processes US colleges offer. Unlike in India, where college admissions rely mostly on entrance exams and merit lists, US colleges have three main options for application and decision-making: “early action”, “early decision”, and “regular decision”. Each admission process has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the appropriate one can significantly impact your acceptance chances and your ability to pursue your dream of studying in the US. However, there is no need to worry, as we’re here to help you understand each option and how to choose the best one for you. In this blog, we’ll provide you with all the information you need about different admission processes for US college admissions.
What is Early Action?
Early application submission to universities is known as early action (EA). This process involves applying ahead of the standard application dates, which means the university’s decision is available earlier. For example, students must submit their application by 1st November instead of 1st January. They can expect to receive a decision by mid-December instead of 1st April, although these dates may vary depending on the college. There are two types of early action programs: restrictive and non-restrictive. Restrictive EA allows candidates to apply to only one early action institution and prohibits applying to any institutions for early decision, while non-restrictive EA has no such limitations. However, regardless of the type of early action, applicants are still free to reject any offer of admission.
Pros of Early Action
- Non-binding and allows comparison for financial aid: The most significant 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 to a university of their choice.
- If your academic profile is excellent: If you already have outstanding grades, engage in extracurricular activities and have brilliant GRE scores, applying early saves you from the competition of applying in the regular applicant pool. Also, applying to a college’s early action program can help candidates with solid applications to stand out from the crowd.
Cons 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 standardised 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 up, you will apply better 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.
Popular schools with early action policies include the following:
- Harvard University
- Stanford University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- University of Oxford
- University of Cambridge
- University of California, Berkeley
- Columbia University
- Yale University
- Princeton University
- University of Chicago
What is an Early Decision?
When students decide early, they tell the university it is their top choice. If accepted, the student is bound to attend that institution. For instance, early decision applications are due by either November 1 or 15 and admission decisions are typically released by December 15 (depending on the college). To be considered for early admission, the student and their parents must sign a pledge agreeing to attend the university if accepted. Additionally, the student must withdraw all other applications and decline any other offers of admission.
Pros of Early Decision
- Increases chances of acceptance: Your chances of acceptance under early decision are higher than a regular decision candidate. The most selective colleges admit 25% to 50% of their students from the early admissions pool. In recent years, almost 40% of first-year students 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 powerful 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.
Cons 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. They must withdraw applications from other schools and cannot submit new applications if accepted.
- Losing out on favourable financial aid: Candidates who want financial aid cannot compare financial aid offers from different colleges due to the restrictive nature of the early decision. Do not feel pressured into applying early decisions 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.
Popular schools with early decision policies include the following:
- Brown University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Duke University
- Northwestern University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Colby College
What is a Regular decision?
The regular decision means the normal process by which students apply as per the published deadlines, with the promise of receiving an admission decision by 1st April. Some colleges will give admission decisions well before 1st April. Still, the student is under no obligation to make a decision about whether to attend until the standard response date of 1st May.
Pros 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 to proofread your essays and make necessary changes to enhance the content.
- More time to figure out where you want to apply: A mistake students make is applying Early Decision to a university they have not sufficiently researched. Before pouncing on an ED school, you must consider academic programs, costs, and outside information. 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, applying later and increasing your chances of getting into your dream school under regular decision.
- You need a better financial aid package: If you apply under ED, you cannot compare financial aid packages from different schools. Many schools nowadays let you decline an ED offer if the financial aid isn’t good enough but 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.
Cons 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 regarding 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.
Key Difference between Early Action, Early Decision and Regular Decision
|Admission Decision Timeline
|Flexibility in Acceptance
|Non - binding
|Earlier than regular decision
• Multiple acceptances possible
• Opportunity to compare financial aid offers
• Can defer enrolment if needed
|Earlier than regular decision
• Must withdraw other applications
• Demonstrates strong interest and commitment
• Opportunity for improved acceptance rates
|Non - binding
|Typically by April
• Multiple acceptances possible
• More time for thorough research and decision
• Can compare financial aid offers
If you’re a student with exceptional academic credentials and have already decided which institution to attend, applying early may be a great option. However, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t feel pressured to apply early if you’re not fully prepared. While some may believe that early applications lead to better results, it’s not always true. You can always choose to apply through regular decisions and still have a chance at admission. It’s crucial to take the time to consider your options, weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and only make a decision once you feel confident in your choice. Remember, every student application is unique, and what works for one student may not work for another.
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