At Bates, an admission program of early decision has been around since the 1960s, and it hasn’t changed all that much.

Back then, a student applied early decision in November and was notified by December, same as today. And same as today, the acceptance was binding for the student.

Using a courtship metaphor, “early decision is not a flirting game,” explains Leigh Weisenburger, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid. “You’re getting married.”

The value proposition of early decision also has not changed in 60 years. As the late Dean of Admissions Milton Lindholm wrote in 1961, “for the student, early decision obviates the necessity of filing applications to more than one college; the advantage to Bates is that it knows that the accepted student will matriculate.”

Existing alongside early decision for all these years has been another type of early program, early action, similar in its earliness, but not binding.

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Weisenburger uses a touch of phonetics to help prospective students and families remember the difference between early action and early decision.

“The word ‘action’ starts with a vowel, with a softer sound. So think of it as an opportunity for a student to apply early, but without any binding element tied to that round of admission.”

A student applies early, and is notified early. If accepted, “they have that offer of admission in their back pocket” as they continue their applications to other colleges.

Early decision is a different sound and a whole different ball game. “It’s the letter D — a consonant with a harder sound. It’s binding.”

When a student applies early decision, they’re signing a contract, along with a family member and their school college counselor, that says if admitted, they will matriculate.

Then there’s the old standby, regular decision, an opportunity for a student to apply to a number of colleges during the fall and winter, then typically get decisions in the spring. “In regular decision, students can weigh pros and cons, compare financial aid packages and go from there,” says Weisenburger.

Not every college offers all of three options. Some colleges offer just one, some might offer two, and some might offer three. (Bates offers early decision and traditional regular decision.) Neither Bates, Colby, nor Bowdoin offers early action.

“You, the student, get to do your research and see what the options are, what interests you, and what’s most suitable for you and your needs.”

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