Early admissions are an attractive option for those looking to minimize senior year stress. Indeed, there is nothing like a Christmastime college acceptance to give a student peace of mind and a dose of positivity going into the new year.

I am a strong advocate for the strategic use of early admission programs with my clients, but they are not right for everyone!

Before you forge ahead with an Early Decision or Early Action application, make sure to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Am I prepared to apply by November 1st?

In general, early admission plans are usually best for those applicants that are well prepared. If you have started your final year of high school, and haven’t yet given much thought to where you might like to go to college, Early Decision I and Early Action I are probably not right for you. By September of senior year, early applicants should have not only decided where they will be applying, but made progress on writing their essays. Last minute decisions and rush jobs are not recommended!

2. How are my grades?

Since Early Action I and Early Decision I applications are submitted in November, universities will be considering the applicant’s suitability for admission solely based grades from the first three years of high school. If 11th grade (Year 12) was shaky for you academically, and you’re hoping to boost your grades in your final year, early admission may not be the way to go. It may be in your best interests to wait until you receive mid-year grades and apply Early Decision II or Regular Decision, so that colleges can see the improvement in your academic performance.

3. Have I fulfilled all standardized testing requirements?

When applying Early Action I or Early Decision I, you will need to complete all standardized testing for your school(s) of choice by its testing deadline. These vary from school to school. Some colleges will accept scores from November tests, while others require students to have completed all of their testing prior to submitting their applications. It is vital to check the policy of each individual school, to make sure you will meet its deadlines. And if you’re banking on taking a December or January test, then early admissions is not the way to go.

4. Do I require significant financial aid?

You may only apply to one school Early Decision and acceptance is binding, meaning that you must attend the school if accepted. Hence, by applying Early Decision applicants relinquish their ability to compare financial aid packages from multiple schools. Often, when Regular Decision applicants receive financial aid offers in April, they are able to leverage one school’s package to negotiate a better deal at another school. This is obviously not possible for Early Decision applicants, and hence ED may not be the best option for those who are in need of financial aid.

5. Am I committed?

This is possibly the most important consideration for those interested in submitting an Early Decision application. Because Early Decision is binding, it should only be pursued by those who have a clear first-choice college – and do not mind forgoing the opportunity to apply to other schools. For those who are comfortable with this level of commitment, Early Decision can be highly advantageous to their chances of acceptance. Bear in mind, the same commitment is not required of Early Action applicants, whose acceptance is not binding.