For this post, I sat down with a former admissions officer from Stanford University to cover the basics of early applications. Read on to learn what they are and whether you should submit one.

First, what is an early application? 

It’s the same as your regular application, just submitted early—typically by November 1st or 15th. You’ll get an answer from the school early, too (usually by mid-December). However, you should also know that there are several types of early applications: 

Early Action (EA) 

This is a non-binding application, meaning you do not have to attend if the school accepts you. Students may apply early action to several schools.

Single-Choice Early Action 

This option is still non-binding, but it differs from Early Action in one key aspect: students may submit only one early application. 

Early Decision (ED) 

This is a binding application, meaning if the school admits you, you must attend. Students may only apply early decision to one school. Because of the commitment involved, you should consider this option very carefully with your family and guidance counselor. Only apply ED to a school that is far and above the school you are most interested in attending.

When applying early, make sure you understand the rules for each school, which you can find on the school’s admissions website. Keep in mind that some schools may only offer one early option, or no early options at all. Consult your Signet consultant, guidance counselor, and/or schools’ admission officers if you have any questions.

Who applies early?

Early applications come from a dedicated, talented group of students whose applications are complete a full two months before everyone else’s applications. Because there are fewer early applicants and early applicants tend to be motivated and strong, early application rounds often have higher admissions rates than regular rounds. Some students interpret this higher admissions rate as a sign that it’s easier to get in by applying early, but that’s often not the case. Your early application does demonstrate your strong interest in a school, and this may give you a slight edge in the early round over the regular round, but keep in mind that your competition in an early round is tougher and just as committed to the school as you are. 

Should I apply early? 

Yes, if:

  • You have a consistent history of strong grades.
  • You’ve already taken and done well in AP or honors-level classes.
  • You are getting teacher recommendations from junior year teachers or a senior year teacher who has taught you previously. 
  • Your test scores are very strong and you don’t plan to retest.
  • You have done a thorough and thoughtful college search and are certain the school is a good match for you.

No, if:

  • Your senior fall grades will be very strong and can redeem you from weak(er) junior year grades. Early applications are submitted before these grades are released, so wait!
  • You are getting recommendations from new teachers in your senior year. (These will be better if they have more time to get to know you!)
  • Your essay could be improved with more work.
  • You are preparing diligently to retake the ACT or SAT in November or December.
  • You’re not completely certain of the schools on your application list.

While we hope you’ll be admitted to your dream school EA or ED, it may not happen or you may be deferred. Keep working on your regular decision applications to have them ready to go, should this happen. Doing so will prevent you from having to work rapidly right after disappointing news.

No single blog post can guide you effectively on all of the details of your candidacy. If you're interested in applying early, talk to your school counselors, or even call the school (anonymously) to get your questions answered.