ED vs EA vs RD

Early Decision vs Early Action vs Regular Decision: What is the Best Way to Apply?

June 24, 2021 (Updated November 13, 2023) | Estimated Read Time: 11 Minutes

By Kate Sitarz

Undergraduate students have several options when applying to colleges. It’s crucial to understand the difference between early decision vs early action vs regular decision before applying so you can find the best option for you. Read on to learn how each application option works, factors to consider when choosing among your options, and how to determine which way to apply is right for you.

What Is the Difference Between Early Decision and Early Action?

When it comes to applying early, the first step is to understand early decision vs early action.

Early decision is a binding decision, meaning you are committed to attending that school if you are accepted. This means you can only apply early decision to one school.

Early action is generally a non-binding option. Like early decision, you apply early, but instead of committing to a school, you have the flexibility to wait to make your final decision. You can apply to other colleges early action and regular decision and wait to receive and compare all your offers.

Many schools, including Babson, do allow you to apply early action to other schools. However, if you’re accepted to a school early decision, you must withdraw any applications you may have submitted.

If you do not get into the school to which you’re applying early decision, you have time to research other schools and submit applications for the regular decision deadlines.

However, according to U.S. News & World Report, some colleges use a restrictive early action process. This means you may not apply to early decision or early action to another college (though you can apply regular decision to those colleges). You are still not obligated to attend the school to which you apply early action.

Note: if you’re applying to Babson early action, you can still apply early decision, early action, or regular decision to other schools on your list.

Do all colleges offer early decision or early action?

Not every college or university offers early decision or early action. As CollegeBoard notes, there are around 450 colleges that have an early decision or early action option, with some that offer both.

Some schools, like Babson, offer two early decision enrollment periods. Both options are for students for whom Babson is their #1 choice. However, Early Decision II is designed to give you a little extra time to strengthen your application materials, whether that’s boosting your grades or improving a test score. The deadline to apply Early Decision I is in November, while the Early Decision II deadline is in January (learn more about Babson's application dates and deadlines).

“We wanted to come up with a plan that would allow students to have more time to put together their application,” explains Jared Pierce, Babson’s Director of Undergraduate Admission. That additional time allows you to boost your grades so they more accurately reflect your abilities or take the ACT or SAT if you want.

“Or maybe you’ve just found Babson and are all in,” adds Pierce. Students who find their #1 choice later in the school year still have the ability to apply early decision. But, regardless of whether you apply Early Decision I or Early Decision II, early decision means you are committing to attend that institution.

Occasionally, a student may apply early decision to one institution, receive a decision that they did not get accepted, and opt to apply early decision to their second-choice school.

Early Action vs Regular Decision?

While early action means you will have an admission decision sooner (and, therefore, more time to consider your options), it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right option for you.

Early action may allow you to check off some to-do list items sooner and have an acceptance before winter break, but you’ll want to consider how your application aligns with typical admitted students. If you feel your application is strong enough, go for it!

However, the major benefit of applying regular decision is that it gives you more time. More time to:

Taking this additional time can help you improve your application and put your best foot forward. Regular decision is a smart option if you feel like additional time to address any of the bullet points above would help your application. 

Whether you apply early action or regular decision, you’ll be able to compare various financial aid offers (which you can’t do when you apply early decision).

Does applying early impact financial aid?

Financial aid is not impacted by whether or not you apply early. Because financial aid is based on the previous years’ tax returns, most people have filed by the financial aid deadline.

“Need-based financial aid consideration is the same no matter when you apply,” reassures Meredith Stover, Director of Financial Aid at Babson. Based on the aid analysis, you’d receive the same financial aid package if you apply early decision as you would regular decision. 

The major benefit of applying early decision or early action, explains Stover, is that you can complete the process sooner and have more time to think about your college investment. “If you complete the financial aid process when you apply, we will provide your financial aid package with your acceptance information so you know how much attending Babson will cost.”

Of course, because financial aid is based on the prior years’ tax returns, there are some situations where that information may not accurately reflect your financial situation. In that case, Stover recommends you reach out. “It is possible to appeal. We’re always willing to look at it.”

Babson meets 100% of demonstrated financial need in the first year, and commits to each student’s level of Babson Grant for four years (provided there is no major change to the family’s financial circumstances or a change in the number of dependent children in college). 

Stover does stress the importance of meeting the financial aid deadlines, not only so you have the information with your acceptance, but also because some institutions won’t consider you for aid if you miss the deadline.

Early action vs regular decision acceptance rates

While applying early does indicate to a college that you have a strong interest in the school and its programs, it does not mean it will improve your chances of acceptance.

As Pierce points out, the rates will depend on the number of applicants. “The size of the early decision pools are much smaller compared to regular decision pools,” he shares. “And every year the pool size changes.” In 2021, for example, the early action application pool was Babson’s largest to date.

“More students want to get their acceptance back earlier and have more time to make their decision versus waiting and having about a month or so to make their final decision of where to spend the next four years,” Pierce explains. 

His advice? Make sure you’re applying early decision or early action to schools you really want to attend. “We want to make sure Babson is the school for you and not just another school.”

Pierce also stresses that the admission criteria does not change. “We are looking for the same things whether you apply early decision, early action, or regular decision.” 

Can I apply regular decision if I don’t get accepted early?

Generally, if you apply early decision or early action and are not admitted, you are not eligible to reapply for regular decision. You can reapply the following year or apply as a transfer student.

However, if you submit an early decision or early action application, many schools may defer your application to the regular decision round for reconsideration. Check with each school, as some may not offer deferment. This may impact whether you want to apply early or take extra time to strengthen your application for regular decision.

If you are deferred, the college will notify you of the decision. This often happens when there are a lot of strong applicants applying for early decision or early action. 

If you apply early decision and are deferred to regular decision, you are no longer in a binding contract.

Early Decision vs Early Action vs Regular Decision: Which Is Best for You?

The first option to weigh is whether applying early decision makes sense for you. If a school is your #1 choice, and you have absolutely no intention of attending another school if you get into your #1, then you may want to explore early decision.

One major factor to consider with early decision is financial aid. If a school is your top choice, but you want to know what your financial aid package looks like before committing, you may want to consider applying early action vs early decision. This way, you have the flexibility to weigh multiple financial aid packages versus committing to the school no matter what. Net price calculators can help you estimate costs and aid in this comparison process.

Another factor to consider is your academic record. Are your grades, course selection, and GPA in line with the school’s typical admitted student profile? If you feel you have a strong application, early decision or early action are both options. However, if you need a little more time, you may opt for Early Decision II.

At schools like Babson, there are two early decision enrollment periods: Early Decision I and Early Decision II. Early Decision II is for you if Babson is your #1 choice, but you’d like a little extra time to make your application even stronger.

If early decision is not for you based on financial aid, consider early action. You can still get a decision by January 1 and have until May 1 to make your decision. If you’re accepted, this gives you additional time to weigh your options and make your final decision.

If you need more time to improve your academic record or otherwise strengthen your application, and you're still weighing which college is the best one for you, applying regular decision may make the most sense for you.

Deadlines can vary slightly by institution, so you’ll want to confirm all dates for each college application you plan to submit.

Here’s what to consider if you’re applying to Babson:


  • You are committed to attending a school; it’s your #1 choice.
  • Financial aid is not a major consideration or you are comfortable with your net price calculator estimate.
  • Your grades and test scores are strong and in line with the school’s typical class profile.


  • You are committed to attending a school; it’s your #1 choice.
  • Financial aid is not a major consideration or you are comfortable with your net price calculator estimate.
  • You want a little extra time to strengthen your application materials (grades, test scores, etc.).


  • You are committed to attending a school, but you want to keep your options open.
  • You want to know whether you’re admitted earlier rather than later.
  • Financial aid is an important factor.
  • Your grades and test scores are strong and in line with the school’s typical class profile.


  • You are interested in a school, but aren’t sure if it’s your #1 pick.
  • Financial aid is an important factor.
  • You want a little extra time to strengthen your application materials (grades, test scores, etc.).

Note: Looking for dates? Learn more about Babson’s admission process, dates, and deadlines. And make sure to double check all dates with each institution, as deadlines may vary from school to school.

Get help deciding between early decision vs early action vs regular decision

If you’re still unsure which option is best for you, reach out to your admissions counselor. At Babson, Pierce says he and his team help students come up with a plan to apply. “We can help counsel students on what makes most sense based on their situation.”

Stover agrees. “One of the great things about Babson is that we can work with families on a one-on-one basis,” she says, noting that she and her team often talk with students who get admitted and don’t end up attending Babson. “And that’s OK!” she stresses.

She and her team also help first-time applicants understand where they stand in the process. “A lot of families may look at price and move on to the next college,” explains Stover. But having a conversation can help families understand that Babson may be more affordable than they realize.

Stover encourages prospective students to use net price calculators to get a good estimate of costs. “You wouldn’t buy a house without knowing the price,” she says by way of comparison.

The net price calculator from CollegeBoard is about a 15-minute process. Another from MyinTuition is quicker with only six questions. “Once you get your result, we’re happy to talk through it and see if there were any mistakes, help you understand why numbers are what they are, and even help you understand where you sit in terms of other applicants when it comes to financial aid.”

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About the Author

Kate Sitarz is a copywriter and digital marketer with more than 10 years of experience helping startups, Fortune 500 companies, and every size business in between achieve their goals.

Like this article? Have a suggestion? To contact our team with comments or article ideas, send us a note at news@babson.edu.

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