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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

Why Early Decision May Help you as an International Student in the USA

It is college admissions season in the USA!

As we get closer to November 1, the official deadline for many universities in the USA, I wanted to revisit some updates on types of decisions and how international students specifically can decide which type of application is best for them.

This article will dive into Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision, and we’ll go over some things that are different this year and see what tips international students can use to help increase their chances of getting admitted to their dream university in the USA.

College board defines early decision and early action in this article, but the quick definition is that early decision is a binding agreement, meaning if you get offered a spot at the university, you must be prepared to pay the costs and sign the agreement to enroll. Early action is not a binding agreement, but rather it’s a way to express to the university that you are very interested in their school and it’s your top choice or one of your top choices. Regular decision is simply the deadline for students to submit a regular application.

Choose the right university decision type for you!

Many of the top universities in the USA have two or more of these types of decisions. So how can international students decide which is best for them?

In addition to understanding the different types of decisions, it’s important to understand the current climate of university admissions. It’s very long and very complicated, but there are some key takeaways for international students.

  1. First, the pandemic pushed many universities into offering test optional admissions. This means that international students can apply without having to submit standardized test scores like the SAT or the ACT. While there is a great benefit for students from other countries because often testing preparation is little to nonexistent or only available to extremely affluent students, it also has had some widespread effects on university admissions in the USA.

    1. The biggest effect of test optional policies has been that students, both in the USA and abroad, are applying to more universities than ever. This is causing huge leaps in application numbers to top universities, meaning that students applying are facing more competitive admissions than ever.

  2. Second, while application numbers have drastically increased, the staff of admissions' officers in universities has not. This means admissions counselors are reading more files than ever, and they have to look for the students that stand out.

  3. Third, competitive universities are admitting a larger portion of their class through early on to learn how this can impact you.

UCLA had 168,000 applications last year, and their admit rate was about 11%

NYU had 67,000 applications last year, and their admit rate was about 12%

Cornell had 47,000 applications last year, and their admit rate was about 7%

Those are numbers for all students - the international admit rates are typically less. As if those numbers are not staggering enough, we’ve seen policy changes impact international student enrollment as well. The state of California is making a push for more in-state students, meaning the available spots for international students is even less than before.

This can sound really bleak, but it just means that the type of decision you choose is even more important. Something that university reporters and experts have been analyzing this year is how the type of decision can impact your chances of getting admitted. Many universities that are test optional and seeing application numbers increase, are placing more emphasis on demonstrated interest.

What is demonstrated interest and how can you show it?

Demonstrated interest is how you show a university that you want to attend. Things like emailing the admissions department to ask a question, visiting the school in person or online, applying for special programs or scholarships, engaging on social media - really anything that shows you are seriously interested in attending.

Another way to show demonstrated interest is to apply Early Decision or Early Action. Since there are limitations on those types of decisions, it shows the university you are serious and committed to them if you get admitted.

The result of all of these pandemic and university changes is that we are seeing that universities are much more likely to admit a larger percentage of their incoming class with Early Decision applicants.

For students interested in applying to university in the USA, it’s essential to do your research, choose schools that are a good fit for your profile, and then pick your top choice school and make an informed decision to apply Early Decision to give yourself the best chance of acceptance.

In the end, applying Early Decision could drastically increase your chances of getting admitted to your dream university.

When is Early Decision not a good choice?

Early Decision is not a good choice if you’re very dependent on financial aid. Since students are signing a binding agreement, they are supposed to understand that they will be able to pay for school if admitted. Many top universities offer competitive financial aid packages for international students, but it involves in depth conversations with your parents about what they can afford for your university and how they can help complete the financial documents needed to support your application.


I hope this helps. Stay calm and trust that you’ve prepared to the best of your ability for the university admissions process.

Remember to check back to new articles as we move into the “waiting” phase of admissions season!

Until next time!

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