Applying for College Early

If your child is confident he or she will thrive at a chosen college or university, early admission may be the right choice. 

More than 400 colleges and universities offer early admission, which often gives students who apply a better chance of being accepted than the regular admissions process. So if a particular college or university rises to the top of your child’s list, consider applying early.

There are three types of early-admission plans: early decision, early action and single-choice early action. All three require students to submit their applications early, typically in October or November; all three also provide early notification of their decisions, typically in December or January.

That’s good news, but keep in mind that student obligations vary by school, so be sure to talk with your child’s counselor ahead of time to ensure you understand the rules. Also keep the following in mind:

  • Early-decision plans are binding. Students can apply to only one early-decision school. If the school says yes and offers adequate financial aid, the student must attend.
  • Early-action plans are like early-decision plans, but they’re not binding. Students can apply to more than one early-action school. If accepted, students decide whether to commit immediately, wait until spring or decline.
  • Single-choice, early-action plans offer similar benefits. These plans work the same as other early-action plans, but students can only apply early to one school and have until spring to provide their answer. They may, however, use the regular admissions process to apply to other schools.

Applying early can be a good option for students who know which school they want to attend, especially if they have strong grades and many extracurricular activities.


Following these steps will make the early-admission process go more smoothly:

Junior Year

  • Take college admission tests.
  • Visit colleges.
  • Check to see if your child’s top schools offer early admission.


  • Take subject tests to demonstrate knowledge and achievement in specific subject areas.
  • Maintain good grades and extracurricular activities.

Senior Year

  • Download early-decision or early-action applications.
  • Complete and submit the applications.
  • Request letters of recommendation from teachers.

Follow up with teachers to make sure they’ve submitted their letters of recommendation.

  • Create a backup plan by submitting regular-decision applications.
  • File required financial aid forms.