Decisions, Decisions: Early Decision, Early Action, Instant Decision or Regular Decision
By Thomas Broderick
When it comes to your journey to college, you have to answer many important questions:
- Public or private school?
- Small or big school?
- How much can I afford?
- Which scholarships should I apply to?
- And so on.
Answering each of these questions brings you one step closer to attending college. However, one of the final questions you must answer may have the most significant impact on where you go to school:
- Should I apply early decision, early action, instant decision, or regular decision?
Yes, there are many choices of how you can apply to college, and each one comes with a unique set of rules and regulations. In this article, we’ll examine each type of application so you can choose those right for you.
As the name implies, early decision requires you to decide where you want to go to college before most application deadlines. You apply to one school 1-2 months before regular decision, and you can expect a decision in about six weeks. You may already know the catch: if the school accepts you, you have to go there. No, they won’t drag you off to jail if you don’t attend, but when you send in your early decision application, you’re telling the college that, “Yes, I will 100% go here if you accept me.”
Students who apply early decision have a slightly higher chance of receiving an acceptance letter. Don’t be fooled; schools accept a higher percentage of early decision applicants because these applicants represent the cream of the crop. Finally, schools may decide to push some early decision applicants into the regular decision pile to review their applications again between January and April.
Who should apply early decision?
If you 100% know deep down – you feel it in your bones – that you want to attend a specific college, by all means, apply early decision. And if you get in, more power to you. With that significant weight off your shoulders, you can celebrate during winter break and have a less stressful spring semester.
And if you shouldn’t get in – it happened to me, too – take a moment to grieve before refocusing your energy on your remaining applications.
Want to know if a school will accept you early but not 100% sure you want to attend? Then early action is for you!
Schools that use early action typically have the same application deadlines as schools that use early decision. You receive a decision around the same time as if you had applied early decision, too. But unlike early decision, applying early action does not constitute an agreement to attend a school if it accepts you. Also, you have until May 1st to make your final decision.
Who should apply early action?
You should apply early action if there is a school you love, but you’re not entirely sure you want to attend. Also, consider early action if you want to see how your regular decision applications turn out.
Don’t let the name fool you. Instant decision takes a little more time than a cup of instant ramen. It’s more like speed dating. Here’s how the process works for some schools:
- You gather all application materials.
- You take them to a college on its decision day, also known as D-Day.
- The college makes an admission decision that same day.
Like with early action, you still have until May 1stto select a college or university. Compared to early decision, early action, and regular decision, instant decision is rare. None of the schools you apply to may use it.
Who should apply instant decision?
Consider instant decision a good choice you want to know your results as soon as possible. D-Day can feel like a gauntlet, however, especially for schools that use interviews, so be ready for the stress.
Regular decision represents the bulk of applications colleges and universities receive throughout December and into early January. Schools spend the spring curating their next year’s freshman class before sending out decisions around April 1st. Accepted students have until May 1stto accept an offer. Schools put some regular decision applicants on a waitlist: these students may not find out until May or June if a school accepts them.
Who should apply regular decision?
No matter who you are, you should plan to apply regular decision to at least three schools. It’s your best bet to receive one or more acceptances.
Applying to college has never been more competitive, and you may think that applying one way or another may give you an advantage. If I were you, I’d push these thoughts out of my mind. Apply early decision/action to your top choice and apply regular decision for the rest of the schools on your shortlist. After that, all you can do is sit back, wait, and continue doing your best in high school until graduation day.