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 Aug 09, 2020
An Early Decision and Early Action Timeline

If you are an incoming high school junior who is planning on applying to college via an Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) program, you may be wondering how to create a timeline that is best fit for your needs. Should you take your SAT/ACT during your junior year? When should you start applying to colleges? And should you take a few Subject Tests along the way? ED and EA programs are slightly different from the rest in that even though they present a challenge to busy students, they also provide the opportunity to finalize college acceptance early. So, for those of you considering taking early action for greater satisfaction, this article gives you our take on a rigorous yet realistic recipe for success. Let’s get to it!

What is the difference between Early Action and Early Decision? 

In a nutshell, the difference between Early Action and Early Decision all boils down to commitment. Whereas EA programs allow students to change their minds or withdraw their names even after acceptance, ED programs are binding. Students admitted into an ED program are generally forbidden from making changes or switching to another college. For this reason, make sure that you know what you want when you apply to an ED program – there is no going back!

Many competitive colleges only allow students to submit one early application. Others allow students to submit early applications to as many schools as they want, as long as they withdraw these applications following acceptance into a school. For example, if Sam is accepted into a college through an ED program, he must remove his name from all the other schools to which he applied early. Take a look at your target school’s requirements in order to know what is expected of you if you apply to an EA or ED program. 

What are the deadlines to apply to Early Action or Early Decision programs?

Because every university has a different deadline, we advise that you research specific schools to learn more about their programs. This website has a comprehensive list of all the 2021 EA and ED deadlines for most colleges in the United States, but keep in mind that individual universities may choose to change their deadlines if need be.

When should I take my SAT and/or ACT?

We highly recommend that all aspiring ED or EA students complete their first SAT and/or ACT attempt during their junior year. While some students may use this as a practice run, others may be able to receive their target score early on so that they are all set to go. Nevertheless, taking an SAT or ACT during the eleventh grade allows students to enter a “safe zone” – they have a test score locked and loaded just in case they are unable to test again. Of course, students can take additional tests in the summer prior to their senior year or at the very beginning of their senior year, but we always say that an early shot is better than not! Since ED and EA deadlines can be as early as November 1st, the November and December SAT test dates often are not available to high school seniors who apply early.

And what about SAT Subject Tests?

SAT Subject Tests, which are required by many of the top colleges, are given on the same days and times as the SAT, so students cannot sit for both the SAT and a Subject Test on the same day. Therefore, if juniors who have not yet taken Subject Tests sit for their initial SAT in May, they may only have the June and October SAT administrations to take Subject Tests. 

To learn more about SAT Subject Tests, check out this article. Also, keep in mind that different schools have different requirements for Subject Tests – some schools don’t ask for them at all! So, make sure to do your research so that you know which tests you should take (and when!). 

The bottom line is that students who wish to apply to EA or ED programs should consider taking standardized tests earlier than what is recommended. Although this may put an undesirable time constraint on students, those who put in the effort will find that the reward – potential early acceptance into a selective school – far outweighs the drawbacks.

Ratnakar Poduri, CEO and Co-Founder of Brilliant Education Group, is a teacher, author, and engineer with a mission to help students advance their lives through education. By using a comprehensive approach that goes far beyond that of traditional test prep programs, Poduri has personally prepared over 1700 students for their SATs and ACTs. When he’s not geeking out, he likes to spend time with his two beautiful daughters, watch sports, and solve crosswords.