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As the summer begins to wind down and school supplies infiltrate the aisles of every store, a sense of urgency is beginning to hit every rising senior and they’re all asking themselves the same question: How on earth do I apply to college?

If you’re one of these seniors, I can assure you that you’ll have doubts throughout the whole process, but at the end of the day, you will end up at the school that you were meant to go to.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take some time today to give a little big sibling advice about thinking versus committing, otherwise known as Early Action vs. Early Decision. There are tons of articles about this, but that’s for a good reason — the two are very different and very, very easy to confuse.

I’m sure you’ve heard from some older friends that the biggest piece of advice they can give you is to apply as early as possible. I wholeheartedly agree with this. However, many will neglect to tell you that there are 3 different kinds of applications you may submit — Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision. The Regular Decision is pretty self-explanatory — your application gets processed with everyone else’s and you learn about your decision the same time as everyone else. It’s the Early Decision and Action where things get confusing.

Have no fear, though, because I can easily break it down for you.

Many colleges and universities offer Early Decision. Many people who apply ED feel that it will increase their chances of getting into their dream school, or perhaps increase their chances for a scholarship. While this information isn’t entirely false, it’s important to know what you’re really getting yourself into when you apply ED. For starters, it’s a binding agreement. This means that no matter what, if accepted, you will attend this school. This is why a lot of people choose a school that they think they have no shot of getting into as an ED school because they figure that if by some miracle they’re admitted, then they will obviously be going. This is a dangerous route, however. You’re basically getting married to this school before you know about how much of a scholarship you will receive, if you’ll even get one, and you’re eliminating the wiggle room that you’d get if you had the opportunity to weigh out the benefits of the different schools you will, undoubtedly, be admitted to. In spite of the dangers, though, I totally understand why people are tempted to apply ED. If you know in your heart that you will be able to attend a school, regardless of the scholarships, distance, or any other factors, I’d say that ED is definitely an option you should consider. However, it’s not your only one.

More and more schools nowadays are beginning to offer an Early Action application. This is similar to ED in that they’re due around the end of October or first week of November. However, the biggest difference is that this isn’t binding. Essentially it’s just an opportunity provided for applicants who are extremely proactive about their applications and are able to complete everything by October. The benefits to EA are not as extensive as ED in terms of scholarships or even just an acceptance, but one of the biggest benefits, in my opinion, is that you will learn of your decision much earlier than you would otherwise. Not only is this great for those of you who have a lot of schools to think about, but it also provides you time to apply to other schools before their Regular Decision deadlines pass. It’s a great option for those of you who plan on applying early because, although they will take early applications even for a RD, this way you can find out a little earlier than everyone else.

Perhaps the biggest thing to remember about ED vs EA is the quantity of schools you can apply to when choosing these kinds of apps. Generally speaking, you can only apply to ONE school Early Decision (and most people wait to hear back from this school before applying to others, simply to avoid paying unnecessary app fees). This means that you have to pick the ONE school you would LOVE to go to. On the other hand, in most cases, you can apply to more than one school EA simultaneously. This is a huge advantage because you can find out about a lot of schools early enough to either make a decision right away or generate a new list of schools if all of your EAs fall through.

Personally, I think if you know for sure that a school is a feasible option for you and you are sure that it’s your absolute dream school, then ED may be an option for you. I didn’t have this feeling or feasibility with any of the schools I applied to last year so I ended up doing 2 EAs and 3 RDs. However, as I’ve said tons of times before, it’s all really up to you and your own preferences. If you want options, don’t apply ED but if you know that there’s only one school you could see yourself at, then go for it over EA.

I know this is a lot of information to digest, but I hope that this helps all of you rising seniors out. The app process is undoubtedly confusing and frustrating but I know you’ll all push through all of that and I promise, the feeling when you get into college is so, so worth it.

I wish you all so much more than just good luck with this whole process — always remember TP’s got your back no matter what!

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