What is Early Action?
A relatively small number of colleges and universities in the United States have Early Action (EA) admissions policies, which allow students to apply early and accelerate the application process. Early Action is similar to Early Decision (ED) with one major difference: it is non-binding, allowing you to consider offers from other schools.
Deadlines vary from school to school, but in most cases EA applications are due in early November and students are notified of the decision in mid-December. If accepted, you will still have until the spring deadline-usually May 1- to accept or decline. During this time you can apply to other schools.
Benefits of Early Action
Early Action is very beneficial to students, as it is more open and flexible than Early Decision. If one of your top schools has admissions standards that match your grades and test scores, check and see if they offer EA. Not many do these days, but if it's available you may want to take advantage.
By applying EA you are signaling to the school that it is a top priority for you. As with ED, you should do as much research as possible and really understand why you want to attend this school. EA applications tend to have a higher acceptance rate than general applications, but that's not just because they are at the front of the line. You need to specifically demonstrate how this school will be a good fit for you and how you will be a good fit for the school.
You can apply to multiple EA schools, but you still need to give each one a considerable amount of time and attention. Admissions counselors will be looking for reasons why you have chosen this school and how you can achieve academic success and contribute back to the school. In order to demonstrate this, you must have detailed knowledge and go into specifics about academic programs, campus life and how your plans for higher education fit into this.
If you are accepted, you are not obligated to attend. The acceptance deadline is in the spring, usually May 1st. During that time you can figure out your financial aid so you know if you can afford this school. You can also apply to other schools, including some of your reaches that may be a long-shot. This is perhaps the greatest benefit to Early Action.
Single-Choice Early Action
Single-choice Early Action is pretty rare, but some colleges and universities do offer it. It is similar to the policies described above, except that you're not allowed to apply early to any other schools. If you are accepted, that offer is non-binding and you can continue shopping around.
Most schools that employ single-choice EA do so to attract a pool of qualified early applicants. This gives them an idea of what the incoming freshman class will look like and helps them project how many applications they will receive during the year.