Early Action (EA) is a method of applying to college that is being offered by more and more colleges. In this article I explain what EA is and why 90 percent of students should apply through an EA program when it is offered. I also share the reasons why some students should not apply Early Action.

What is Early Action? It is a method of applying to college that about 10 percent of colleges offer. These colleges may be public or private, small or large. They are often selective schools, but there are plenty of exceptions. EA involves a student submitting their entire application by a deadline that is usually in October or November. In return for submitting the application early, colleges will notify students on a specific early date, usually by January 15. If a student is admitted, they still have until May 1 to visit colleges, do research, apply to other colleges, and compare aid awards.

There are a couple unique versions of EA. The most common variation is known as EA II; this is just a second round of EA with the same principles, but it usually has a January deadline and a February notification date.

The other variation is Single Choice Early Action. Only six schools offer this variation. Here, you can apply early, but only if you agree to not apply to any other EA or Early Decision (ED) programs.

About 10 percent of students should not apply through EA. These might be students who have had a spotty academic transcript and who need to post strong grades in the fall of their senior year before they are evaluated. These could also be students who are thinking about applying early at the last minute and don’t have the time to submit a quality application with great school-specific essays, a great personal statement, and great short answer responses. Perhaps they have not had a chance to visit or even meet an admissions rep at a fair, reception, or school visit.

It is also not good for students to apply EA if they are only going to apply to schools where they are unlikely to be admitted. Getting rejected by all of your early applications around Christmas time only increases the stress of the senior year. There are also schools that offer both EA and ED, and there are times when ED is the better option for the student. Finally, if you are a student who is going to stop doing well in school once you are in (aka senioritis or senior slump) than EA is not ideal for you.

Why am I so bullish about applying EA? First of all, a lot of colleges have a priority admissions deadlines. You have to apply by this deadline to be eligible for their largest merit scholarships. While there are many colleges that offer EA, a priority admissions deadline, and a priority deadline that is different than their EA deadline, I know of no instances when the priority deadline is before the EA deadline. In other words, if you make the EA deadline, you will be eligible for the largest merit scholarships. In many instances, you won’t be eligible for any merit scholarships unless you make this priority deadline. I have seen so many students miss these priority deadlines (which seem to be getting earlier all the time) and it is painful. Applying EA ensures that students will meet the priority scholarship deadlines.

Secondly, believe it or not, a lot of students are stressed out about the fact that they may not get into any college. If they can get admitted at an EA college before December, it can expunge a lot of the stress from the senior year.

Finally, there are admission advantages to applying early. Just two days ago I was talking to an admission officer at a highly selective college. I was thanking him for the students his school accepted that I recommended this year. He said, “To be honest, Mark, I don’t think one of your students would have gotten in if he hadn’t applied through our Early Action option.”

This confusion arises because ED is another method of applying to college that some schools offer that also involves an early deadline and an early notification date, but ED is binding and there can be considerable admission advantages to applying ED. EA admissions rates are nowhere near as high as ED rates, but they are still usually higher than regular rates. Of course, there are exceptions, but I am speaking in terms of averages.

As schools get more and more apps, they are looking for ways to assess who is really interested in them. EA is one way a school uses to differentiate those who have had them on their mind for some time and plan to apply in the early fall, versus those who may see them as an afterthought and just add them onto their college list at the eleventh hour. More schools add EA every year and you should take advantage of it.