While it’s never too early to start thinking about college, applying for admission requires timing. Traditional students (that’s what colleges call those who go to college right out of high school) apply for admissions in December or January. Some schools even let you apply as late as mid-Spring. However, those who want to increase their chances at getting into an institution with a low acceptance rate often work hard to meet the early admissions deadline.

Applying for early admission means you submit your application by an earlier deadline set by the university, usually in November, and find out as early as January if you got it. But, it also comes with a few strings attached. Here’s what you need to know about early admission to decide if it’s the right choice for you.

First of all, not all colleges and universities have an early admission program, but those that do offer one of two types: early action and early decision. Early action means that you are not required to enroll if you are admitted.  Early decision, however, means the school’s admissions decision is legally binding. In other words, by applying you are agreeing to go to that institution if you are admitted. You can only apply for early decision to one college, so make sure you know which type of program the school offers before you apply.

Keep in mind that early admissions does not guarantee that you’ll get in. Don’t wait to apply to other schools until you get your admissions decision—you run the risk of missing other application deadlines. 

Early admissions might be the right choice for you if you want to increase your chances of getting into a selective or highly selective college (the smaller the applicant pool, the more your chances go up), but proceed with caution if financial aid will play a big role when deciding where to enroll. Early decision means you must accept the aid package the school gives you. Early action programs mean you have the comfort of knowing your spot is saved and the luxury of negotiating or shopping around at other schools to see what kind of financial aid package they may offer you.

If you have a really strong application: high test scores, good recommendations, stellar admissions essay, etc., then you might be ready to submit your application early. But, if you think you can raise your test scores, or add an additional community service project to your resume, you might be better off waiting until the traditional application deadline. Admissions officers care more about the quality of the applicants than they do about when an application was submitted.