In the last twenty years, more schools have offered Early Decision/Early Action programs to help students who know where they want to go get a decision earlier. With Early Decision, if you are granted admission, you are not allowed to apply to any other school unless there is an extenuating circumstance such as lack of financial aid. At the same time, though, if you know that you want to go to a specific school, Early Decision can be a great idea and you might even get a better financial aid package.
The deadline for application submission is usually in late October/early November, so anyone who is still considering Early Decision should get their materials together as quickly as possible.
However, until recently, some schools would not extend Early Decision to international applicants. The reason for this is the complexity that often comes with international applications. Admissions offices must evaluate the credentials of each student in a timely manner. As many admissions offices are spread thin as it is, some were reluctant to cause further woes for overworked staff members.
News out of Cambridge may indicate that things are beginning to change here. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently amended its Early Action program to accept international applicants. This should help foreign applicants who know where they want to go and would like to get the application process finished as quickly as possible. There are usually additional hurdles international students must deal with, including immigration, getting used to a new culture, finding a place to live, securing employment, and others.
Universities may be able to offer Early Action to international applicants because they are able to evaluate their credentials through third-party educational credential evaluators. This allows them to accurately assess applicants in a quick and efficient manner. As international applicants represent a larger portion of university student bodies than ever before, expect more schools to offer programs like Early Action to international students to improve their experience applying.