Q. What is the difference between applying to colleges "early action" versus "early decision"?
A. When students apply early action or early decision, they are submitting an application "earlier" than usual -- normally by a Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 deadline in the senior year of high school.
Both methods allow students to get a decision usually within a month of the deadline, says Sunil Samuel, director of admissions for Hofstra University in Hempstead.
But there is a critical difference between the two.
"If a student is applying and marks the box on the application that says 'early decision' and that student is accepted, he is contractually bound to attend that school," Samuel says. "There's almost no getting out of it."
With early action, students aren't obligated and have until the usual deadline of May 1 to decide whether to attend, Samuel says. Students may apply to more than one school early action -- unless one school is an "early action single choice" school. Some schools offer only early decision, others only early action.
Students can apply early decision and early action to different schools, but if accepted at the early decision school, they must attend and withdraw the application from the other institution, Samuel says.
If denied early acceptance, the student may be deferred into the general pool of applicants or be rejected outright, depending on the school's policies, Samuel says.