College Early Decision and Early Action Steps to Success

By Anathea Simpkins

High School

Under early decision and early action admissions plans, you have the option to submit your college application well ahead of the usual deadline—and to receive your acceptance (or rejection) letter by January! Students who apply under these plans typically have a higher likelihood of being accepted than they would if they apply under regular admissions.

You might consider applying early decision if you’re absolutely positive which college you want to attend and if you are confident that you meet the admission requirements. However, you should think twice if you want time to compare admission and financial aid offers from several colleges.

If you decide to follow the early decision or early action route, follow the timeline below to ensure that your application is ready to go by the required due date.

Junior Year


  • Take the SAT or ACT for the first time.
  • Schedule college visits during one or both of the school vacations.
  • Create your short list of colleges. Research whether the colleges of interest offer an early admission plan.
  • Continue to focus on academics, maintaining the required GPA, and remaining involved in extracurricular and community activities that will reflect positively on the college application.

Senior Year


  • Request or download early decision or early action applications from top choice colleges.
  • Begin completing top choice college applications.
  • Request letters of recommendation from teachers, guidance counselors, and any other references you would like to include. Follow up and confirm that they have been sent.
  • Take the September ACT or October SAT, if necessary. Any tests taken after these administrations will not arrive by the early decision deadline.
  • Submit applications due in October.
  • Register for the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.


  • Complete and submit early decision or action applications due in November.
  • Submit any regular decision applications.
  • Complete and file the CSS/Financial Aid Profile and all other required financial aid forms. Review all requirements and deadlines for financial aid applications and get all your documentation ready to send when requested.


  • Complete and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Compare offers, if applicable, and decide which school you will attend.


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