If you're a college senior or junior, then you probably know that many colleges offer an early application option. There are two main types of early options: early action and early decision. The deadlines for these applications are usually in late October or early November, so now if you are a senior in college now is the time to make the move! For juniors or underclassmen, keep this in mind for the future.
The difference between early action and early decision is the degree of commitment that they require. An early action application will let you hear back early from the school that you send it to, and if you are accepted you will have the choice to attend or not. An early decision application will also let you hear back early, but if you are accepted by the school that you send it to, then you are required to attend that school.
It's almost definitely a good idea to send in one or two early action applications as long as you have your application materials, such as your essay and recommendation letters, almost ready to go. Deciding whether to complete any early decision applications is harder, even though you can only do one, because it means choosing one school that you know you prefer above all others.
If there is a school that is your clear favorite, that you have done all your research on and visited if possible, then you should go ahead with the early decision application. The early decision application shows the university you send it to that you are very interested in attending, which is something that they value. In general, acceptance rates are much higher from the early decision application pool than from the general application pool. So, if your top choice is also a bit of a reach school, an early decision application can give you a leg up.
A few things to remember if you decide to complete an early application:
1. You will probably be asked to submit your grades for the first quarter of your senior year. You need to make sure those grades are what you want them to be before you make your early application. If you need time to pull your grades up, wait for the regular deadline to apply.
2. You won't find out the results until mid-December. Most regular college admissions deadlines are only shortly after that (typically around January 1st) and you will have the holiday season coming up, so you should still move ahead with your other applications while you're waiting to hear.
3. There's another option: rolling admissions. There are some schools, usually large state universities, that don't have an early deadline or a regular deadline. Instead, they accept applications from October through February or March, and decide on people as they get their applications. If you apply on the early end of the rolling range, you have a better chance of being accepted.