Early Action vs. Early Decision: What's the difference?

    If you're like many of the applicants contacting me right now, you're starting to plan your fall around your law school application.
    And, if you're like some of the applicants contacting me right now, you're wondering if it would be worth it to apply via Early Action or Early Decision to your top school or schools.

    Many schools offer the EA and ED options--candidates often don't take advantage of them because they don't really understand them, but they can be incredibly beneficial if used appropriately. It can definitely get confusing, though: Neither follows the standard Regular Decision timeline, each has pros and cons, and both should be considered carefully before applications are sent out.

    Let's shed some light on the subject.

    In a nutshell, both Early Action and Early Decision allow you to tell a school in no uncertain terms: I like you. A lot. I may even love you. And to prove this love, I am willing to tell you that, if you pick me, I will forgo all others and cleave unto you wholeheartedly. Each option is different, though, so its definitely worth it to know what you're getting into before you sign on the Early Agreement dotted line.


    Early Decision, often referred to as "ED," is the stricter of the early application options. You will submit your application early, get reviewed sooner, and receive an admissions decision faster. Early Decision applications are the first applications reviewed during a law school’s rolling admissions process. This all sounds great, right? However, when submitting an application via Early Decision, there are a few points to consider:

    1. If you are accepted at a school via Early Decision, the decision is binding, and you must withdraw all applications from all other law schools immediately. This means, among other things, that you need to be pretty sure that the school you’re applying to is your dream school and that you are comfortable with all or nearly all aspects of it.
    2. If you are denied admissions after applying Early Decision, you will not be able to apply to the same school for Regular Decision. You can only apply to a school once during an admissions cycle.
    3. If you know you will need financial aid to attend law school, think very, very carefully about applying Early Decision. If admitted you will have to attend the school, regardless of whatever financial aid they may (or may not) offer you, and you will not have a chance to review any financial aid offers potentially made to you by any other schools.

    You have five possible admissions results when applying Early Decision: Admit, Deny, Defer, Held, and Waitlist. Make sure you understand what each of them means.

    1. Admit: If you are admitted via Early Decision by a school, that decision is binding, and you must immediately withdraw all other applications from all other schools.
    2. Deny: If you are denied admissions by a school when applying Early Decision, you will not be able to apply to that school via Regular Decision in the same admissions cycle.
    3. Defer: If you are deferred, your application will be moved to the rest of the pool in the regular admissions cycle and will be re-reviewed then.
    4. Held: Being ‘Held’ is very similar to being deferred—your application is transferred over the regular applicant pool and will be reconsidered then. For both deferrals and helds, if you are admitted during the regular admissions cycle you are no longer bound to accept the offer of admission, and you do not need to withdraw any other applications you may have in the works.
    5. Waitlist: If you are waitlisted after applying Early Decision (as is an option with Georgetown Law School), you are basically put on the same waitlist that you would be placed on if you applied Regular Decision and were waitlisted. However, being waitlisted during Early Decision decisions also means (much like when you are deferred or held) that you are no longer bound to accept the school’s offer of admission, even if you are taken off the waitlist and offered a spot in a school’s incoming class.

    Sound confusing? You bet. That’s exactly why you need to be very aware of what you’re getting yourself into when applying Early Decision.


    Early Action, often referred to as "EA," is a more lenient version of Early Decision. The decision is non-binding, and thus is slightly more financial aid-friendly. You have three possible results: Admit, Deny, or Held/Deferred. These mean the same as with Early Decision. However, the con to this nicer admissions possibility is the reply dates—even though they are non-binding, you will still need to submit a response much earlier than Regular Decision, which may affect your decision-making options, since you'll have to let them know if you're going to accept their offer far in advance of most other admissions decisions you may receive.


    Not all schools offer Early Action or Early Decision, and some offer it for only certain programs and not for others. Duke Law, for example, offers Early Decision for JD dual-degree programs, but not for the regular JD program. Make sure to read your applications carefully and call the admissions office of each school to clarify any questions.

    The chart below (click to enlarge) gives a listing of the ABA-approved law schools that, as of 2010, had EA and/or ED options available, along with their deadlines and notification dates.

    Click to enlarge


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