For students ready to jump into the college application process, there’s no need to wait until January. With “early action,” students apply in the fall and get a decision by December — just in time to celebrate admission in the New Year.

Students can apply to as many early action schools as they wish; if admitted, you aren’t required to commit until May 1, says Kiersten Murphy, president of Issaquah-based Murphy College Consultants.

“There’s no reason to not aim for an early action deadline,” Murphy says — if the opportunity is available and you’re a good candidate.

What are the benefits of applying early action?

One major benefit? “The acceptance rate for early action is typically much higher than regular decision,” Murphy says.

Other upsides: You’re indicating focused interest to the admissions committee, facing fewer applicants and, with a potential late-December notification of admission, you won’t worry your way through senior year. Students can then weigh schools with less stress and make return campus visits.

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Early action applicants also usually meet any required deadlines for merit scholarship consideration, honors programs or admission to highly selective majors, such as computer science at Purdue University, Murphy says.

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There is no downside, she points out. Even if admitted, you can still apply to other schools during the regular decision period, or wait to compare financial aid offers.

At some schools, early action students move up other queues. For example, early action applicants receive priority status for financial aid at Northwest University in Kirkland and Seattle Pacific University.

What’s the challenge of applying early action?

Early action deadlines typically fall between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15, Murphy says, creating intense pressure to complete the following:

• Finish applications

• Write personal statements or essays

• Get high-quality letters of recommendation

• Wrap up standardized testing

• Ensure that SAT or ACT scores arrive at the colleges on time

Some colleges, such as the University of Michigan, are very strict, Murphy says: “If your scores aren’t in their hands by Nov. 1, you are automatically rolled over into regular decision.”

Who offers early action?

In general, private colleges tend to offer early-entrance options, says Susanna R. Cerasuolo, CEO of Seattle-based consulting company CollegeMapper.

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It’s less common to find early action at state schools, although it is available at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Who is early action best for?

For a competitive and appealing student, early action makes you appear “very prepared and eager,” Cerasuolo says. If you’re on the cusp, early action may provide a small boost in your appeal.

Who isn’t a good fit for early action?

Those with a lower SAT or ACT score, or a lower GPA than the typically admitted student, might want to hold off and apply with the regular application date, Cerasuolo says, as the early-action crowd can be competitive.

“If you had a downward grade trend during your junior year, it might not be in your best interest to apply early action,” Murphy says.

Early action applicants send transcripts with grades through the end of 11th grade. “If you apply regular decision, you’ll hopefully show the colleges improved fall semester grades, making a stronger case for admission,” Murphy says.

Why do some schools have two early action deadlines?

This is also known as early action I and early action II.

Northwest University offers a primary early action deadline in November and a secondary date in January for those who need a bit more time, says Andy Hall, the school’s senior director for enrollment management.

Whitworth University in Spokane had a fall early action deadline for many years, but added a second early action January deadline when the FAFSA application window moved up into an October start date. If students miss Whitworth’s first early action deadline in November, they can apply in January; the earlier students apply, the sooner they know where they stand with admissions and financial aid.

What is restricted early action?

Restricted early action is also nonbinding, but you’re only allowed to apply to one college — and typically the schools offering this option are highly selective, Murphy says, such as Harvard and Stanford. If denied, you’ve missed the opportunity to get acceptance letters from nonrestrictive early action colleges.

“It can also be deflating to get a denial early on, and not have other positive decisions to make you feel more optimistic,” she says. On the other hand, “If there was ever a chance to get into these schools, your best odds, while still not great, are through these plans.”

What’s the secret to an outstanding early action application?

“When a student really loves a college, they need to be very clear and very transparent about that love,” Cerasuolo says.

Focus on the academics and other appealing offerings, and explain why that school will help you achieve your career goals. “Do not talk about your love of the football games and school colors and 32 family members who attended,” she warns.

Begin the process long in advance of deadlines, and heavily proofread your application — but don’t ask for a parent’s help.

“Presentation matters here, and be sure that you write all work yourself,” Cerasuolo says. “Above all, be honest. Your character is worth more than anything, so always represent yourself accurately and positively.”