4 Things to Know About College Early Action Programs

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Many high school students rush to complete their college applications, hoping to get accepted to a prestigious university. These ambitious students often feel anxious about the admissions process, and they want to find out – as soon as possible – whether they are admitted to a top-tier school.

Though some students may have a dream college in mind, others may be unsure which college they would like to attend, and they want the opportunity to compare admissions offers from multiple schools. For the latter group of students, an early decision program, which requires applicants to promise to attend a college if it admits them, may not be ideal. In contrast, an early action program that does not obligate applicants to attend a college if they are selected might be a better fit.

“Early Action offers more flexibility to students who still wish to receive a decision early in the process but who are not yet comfortable committing to one institution,” Michael Trivette, co-founder of College Transitions, an Atlanta-based admissions consulting firm, said via email.

Undergraduate early action programs were common among colleges that participated in the U.S. News 2019 Best Colleges rankings. Early action programs exist at many National Universities – schools that offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs and emphasize academic research. These programs are also offered at numerous National Liberal Arts Colleges – schools that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of all degrees in liberal arts fields of study. Ninety-eight ranked National Universities and 104 ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges offer an early action program.

Before signing up for one of these programs, here are four features of early action programs that college admissions experts urge students to consider.

Early action programs vary widely. Some early action programs restrict participants from simultaneously applying early to other schools, while other early action programs allow students to apply early to rival institutions they are interested in.

Early action programs at some of the highest-ranked National Universities, including the No. 1 institution, Princeton University, have complex rules. At Princeton, which has a single-choice early action program, participants are banned from applying to an early action or early decision program at another private school, the school’s website states. However, Princeton early action candidates do have the option of applying early to any public school or service academy and any international institution, so long as the admissions decision would be nonbinding. These applicants may also apply to any college or university’s rolling admissions program, so long as the program does not obligate them to attend the school if it chooses them.

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