Q: What is the difference between early decision and early action, and will either of these have any impact on the financial aid package received?
A: The major difference between an early decision plan and an early action plan is the level of commitment required by the student. A student may only apply to one school or college as early decision, and if accepted, the student is obligated to attend that college (unless the financial aid package offered is not adequate, then the student may decline, however this is typically the only way in which a student can be discharged from an early decision contract with a college).
Unlike early decision plans, early action plans are not binding and the student may apply to other colleges as early action. If a student is accepted to a school or college as early action, they are not automatically required to accept, and often colleges do not require a final decision from the student until late spring.
As for how financial aid is impacted by early decision or early action, with an early decision the student will receive one, and only one financial aid package offer. Students will not have the ability to compare the financial aid packages offered from any other schools they may have applied to. The financial aid award package is an “as is” offer, and if the financial aid package is not adequate the student can decline the early acceptance, but the student will not have the ability to to negotiate the financial aid package. Also, any fees or deposits the student may have had to pay associated with the early decision process, will typically be non-refundable in the case that the early acceptance is declined. As for early action, because this is non-binding, the student will have the ability to compare financial aid packages between the other schools they have applied to, and then can make their decision to accept the early action or not.