Updated: Apr 27
Applying to college is often an overwhelming process. There are many decisions to make, steps to take, essays to write, and deadlines to meet.
Here is what our article will cover:
One decision that can prove confusing and rather challenging comes early in the application year when you choose if and what schools you might apply to early.
It’s important to understand what your options are and the implications of each choice. Each school you apply to will ask for your preferred admissions plan.
Your options are:
Regular Decision (RD)
Early Action (EA)
Restrictive Early Action (REA)
Early Decision (ED)
Each of these options are different and will be explained in great depth to help you choose the early application plan that fits you best.
Early Action or EA gives you the option to apply to as many EA schools as you would like to with a non-binding commitment and has an earlier application deadline than regular decision (RD).
Restricted Early Action or REA also allows you to apply to a school early with a non-binding commitment. Still, this option restricts you to apply exclusively to ONE school in the early rounds, meaning you can not apply to any other school EA or ED. REA can also be referred to as single-choice early action (SCEA) by some schools.
Early Decision I/ Early Decision II or ED I/ED II is a binding commitment. If accepted, you will attend that school. You can only apply to one school as ED. You can apply to other schools EA, but if you were to be accepted at your ED school, you must withdraw all other submitted applications and enroll in your ED school. When filling out your application and choosing the ED option, you and your parents will be required to sign an ED agreement. Most schools offer ED I, but there are a growing number of schools that offer an ED II option through a binding commitment.
Regular Decision (RD) does not come with any restrictions. You can apply to as many RD schools that you would like. These are usually your target and safety schools.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Option
Applying to schools early, regardless of which choice you choose, is a good idea as it demonstrates to schools your genuine interest in attending their school. Another advantage is receiving decisions early from schools.
Finding out decisions earlier helps settle some decisions as you continue through the application process. However, the most beneficial reason for choosing a school early is because schools have proven to accept more students in their early rounds.
Early Action (EA) is a great option when you want to show many schools they are one of your top choices. You will receive EA decisions earlier than RD decisions. This option allows you to apply to one ED school and as many schools as you would like via EA.
Restricted Early Actions (REA) this option is more advantageous than EA as it shows your genuine desire to attend that particular school.
Yale admitted 13.8% in SCEA and 5.12% in RD for the class of 2024. The number of schools offering REA is small.
This choice is offered at Harvard, Standard, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Notre Dame. It’s important to check each school’s admissions website for their REA policies.
For instance, Georgetown and the University of Notre Dame allow you to apply to other EA schools but do not allow you to apply anywhere ED. This is because if you were accepted at the ED school, you would have to commit, and you would not be able to accept an offer from Georgetown or Notre Dame should you be accepted, hence making both schools restricted early action (REA).
Early Decision (ED) has proven to accept the highest percentage of students due to its binding nature. When you apply to a school ED, you are committing to that school, showing your true desire to attend.
In 2020, University of Pennsylvania admitted 19.67% of its students in the ED round, while only 5.97% were admitted in the RD round, a significantly higher percentage for those who applied ED.
Applying ED does not mean you should apply to your dream school. You should apply to a school as ED when you fit the school’s overall profile, test scores, and expectations. Your ED school can be a slight reach but should never be an extreme reach. You want to be realistic and choose the best ED school that fits your personal and academic goals.
Deadlines and Decision Dates
An important part of the application process is keeping up to date with the varied application deadlines and knowing when you will receive decisions so you can continue to make preferred admissions plans accordingly.
Early Action (EA), Restricted Early Actions (REA) and Early Decision (ED I) application deadlines are typically either November 1 or November 15. Decisions for ED I are typically released around December 15. If a student is admitted to their ED school, they are required to withdraw all other submitted applications and commit to their ED school.
Students that were denied or deferred from their ED I school are now released from the ED I binding commitment. If students would like to take advantage of the ED boost, they have another chance in the ED II round. ED II is also a binding commitment, and the application deadline is usually January 1 or, at most liberal arts colleges, January 15. Note, the quick turnaround time between the ED I decision and when the ED II application is due. ED II decisions are typically released around February 15. Again, if you are admitted to your ED II school, you must withdraw all other applications and commit to your ED II school.
While Early Action (EA) and Restricted Early Actions (REA) application due date deadlines are often the same as the ED I deadline, the decisions for EA and REA are released later than ED I. These decisions are usually released in late January or early February.
Regular decision applications have a popular due date of January 1, some a few days later, on the 5th of January. Regular decision applicants typically receive their decisions from mid-March to the beginning of April.
Make a Plan
Think about your intended major and future goals. Do your research on the schools you are interested in, evaluate their admissions requirements, and assess where your overall profile fits.
Create an excel document with each schools’ requirements, deadlines, and admissions plan options. Once you have narrowed your schools, map out the best course of action for the schools you will submit applications to and decide how you will apply to each of them, ED, EA, REA, or RD.
Keep in mind the options above, understand each fully, and refer to them to help you make the best decisions for your early applications.