Early Admission Options: Which One is Right for You?

Early Admission Options: Which One is Right for You?

With so many early admission options, it’s easy to get confused. Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Single-Choice Early Action, Early Decision I and Early Decision II…Can you apply ED and REA? Can you apply EA to more than one school? What about ED I and ED II? It’s challenging enough just wrapping your mind around all of these acronyms! You then need to understand what these choices mean for your admissions chances and specific college applications.

So, I’ve put together a list that attempts the impossible: simplifying the many early admission options. I’ll explain the four W’s for each of your early admission choices: What (is it), Why (do it), When (to avoid it), and Where (it’s offered). The Golden Rule of college requirements applies here: make sure to double-check the school’s website for final say on their current application policies. Early admission options differ school to school, and can change year to year!

EA (Early Action)

What is it? You apply to a school by an earlier deadline than the Regular Decision round (typically 11/1), and your result arrives in December. If you’re admitted, you are not obligated to attend. You can apply to multiple schools EA unless they are restricted.

Why do it?

  • Eager beavers: EA is good news for go-getters! The earlier deadline and decision date helps applicants who just want to have all their materials and tests finalized. Being notified sooner also helps those who want the best possible chance at scholarships and merit-based financial aid packages.
  • It’s non-binding: This is particularly important for students who want to compare different financial aid packages or are daunted by the level of commitment that ED entails.
  • Level of interest: Although some schools specifically say that there is no statistical advantage to applying early, others imply that it shows the student’s high level of interest. In any case, the admissions advantage is typically minimal with EA.

When to skip it?

  • Your Application isn’t ready for Prime Time: If your application isn’t top-notch, then it might be worth waiting for Regular Decision deadlines. Give yourself the time to create your best impression! It’s not strategic to rush for EA deadlines if your application needs more work, because sloppy applications won’t be rewarded.
  • Standardized testing: For earlier deadlines, schools will accept late September test sittings, sometimes early October and November scores, but typically no later. If you really want another shot at the SAT, ACT, or SAT subject tests, give yourself more wiggle room and apply Regular Decision. If you take standardized tests on the last possible dates before EA deadlines, you will have to submit your scores to EA schools before seeing your results. If you feel nervous about your latest SAT attempt, you might want to rethink your EA strategy!
  • Your grades: Through this application process, colleges will only review your grades through junior year (11th grade). If your scores dipped earlier in high school, having the extra semester of senior year grades could show schools that you’ve improved. It might be worth it to study hard senior fall to demonstrate an upward trajectory on your Regular Decision applications!

What are the possible outcomes?

  • Accepted: Congratulations! Typically, you’ll have until May to notify the school if you’ll be attending.
  • Deferred: Your application will be forwarded for review with the Regular Decision pool. While you still have a chance of being admitted during the next round, your odds are slimmer.
  • Denied: You cannot apply again in the Regular Decision round. Admissions officers have definitively decided that you are not qualified or not a good fit for the institution. There is no appeals process, so move on!

Popular schools that offer this option: Fordham, MIT, University of Virginia, University of Michigan, Colorado College

ED I (Early Decision Round I)

What is it? You apply to a school by an earlier deadline than the Regular Decision round (typically 11/1) , and your result arrives in December. If you are admitted, you have committed to attending that school and must withdraw any other applications you may have submitted. You may only apply to one school ED but can apply to multiple unrestricted EA colleges.

Why do it?

  • Get your decision earlier: Find out your admissions decision by December of senior year and hopefully you can relax during your second semester (but keep that GPA up!). An ED acceptance can be the best holiday gift ever!
  • A higher chance of getting in: If this college is your absolute dream school and perhaps a little out of reach, applying ED might give the boost you need to get that acceptance letter. Assuming you have a polished and perfect application, it can definitely be worth applying ED. Schools tend to take large percentages of their class ED because they know they are the applicant’s first choice; they know each acceptance will definitely attend!

When to skip it?

  • Committal problems: When you go ED, you are saying you’re ready to attend! If you have any hesitation, the binding nature of ED is not right for you.
  • You haven’t finalized your standardized tests or grades: The strategy for this is the same as EA. If you want some time to improve your numbers, apply 2 months later during the Regular Decision round.
  • Financial aid packages: When you commit to a school ED, you are committing to attending and to paying whatever costs are not covered by any financial aid package you are given. However, the only way out of the binding ED acceptance is by demonstrating that you’re unable to fulfill their financial requirements. That being said, if you want to see what school offers you the most affordable tuition, you can only look at all of your options during the Regular Decision round.

What are the possible outcomes?

  • Accepted: Yay!
  • Deferred: Your application will be forwarded for review with the Regular Decision pool. Like EA, your chances of admission are lower once you’ve already been deferred.
  • Denied: Like EA, you cannot apply again in the Regular Decision round.

Popular schools that offer this option: Columbia, Northwestern, Rice, Carnegie Mellon, Amherst, Dartmouth

ED II (Early Decision Round II)

What is it? Same as ED I, but with a later deadline (typically around the RD deadline of 1/1). This option is particularly popular among Liberal Arts Colleges. You can only apply ED II to one school, and you’ll find out mid-February what your admissions decision is.

Why do it?

  • The ED I benefits apply: This process is very similar to ED I, but it should be noted that your chances of admission during ED II are a bit lower than ED I. While all of the slots for the incoming freshman class are still open during ED I, many applicants have already committed before ED II! Your chances are higher than applying RD, but not as high as ED I.
  • Plan B: If you’ve applied ED I somewhere else and were denied, ED II is the perfect opportunity for a second chance at another school. Or perhaps your application wasn’t ready by ED I, but you still want to show a school that they’re your top choice. ED II is a great chance to demonstrate your preference for a school!

When to skip it?

  • Similar to ED I, if you’re not ready to commit to the school or their financial aid package, ED II is also not for you.

What are the possible outcomes?

  • Accepted: Yay!
  • Denied: Like EA, you cannot apply again in the Regular Decision round.
  • Waitlisted: By the time ED II rolls around, getting on the waitlist is a possibility. You showed who you are and you impressed admissions officers! But they had to make tough choices, and you weren’t accepted. Don’t despair, getting off a college waitlist is possible!

Popular schools that offer this option: NYU, Emory, Tufts, Boston University, University of Miami, Pomona, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, Vassar

REA (Restrictive Early Action) and Single-choice EA

What is it? REA is somewhere between EA and ED. You apply to a school by November 1 and cannot apply to other private schools ED. However, you do not have to attend that school if you’re admitted. Note that schools with this policy often still allow you to apply to public and international universities by their set deadlines. Restricted EA means you can apply to other early programs only if they are non-binding. On the other hand, Single-Choice EA is the most restricted form. These select schools do not allow any other early application of any kind. Like all of the EA varieties, Single-Choice EA is also not binding.

Why do it?

  • Get your decision earlier: You find out your fate earlier! Schools will notify you of your decision by December and you have until May to accept a spot at their school if admitted.
  • A “higher” chance of getting in: Similar to the reasoning with ED, you are demonstrating your interest. Although, the schools that offer this option are receiving top candidates no matter what, so the actual admissions advantage might be negligible.
  • Non-binding: Students still get a chance to compare financial aid packages. In addition, students still have the option to apply to other schools in the Regular Decision round.

When to skip it?

  • You’re not ready to commit: Same as ED!
  • You haven’t finalized your standardized tests or grades: Same as EA!
  • Your application just isn’t ready!

What are the possible outcomes?

  • Accepted: Yay!
  • Deferred: Your application will be forwarded for review with the Regular Decision pool.
  • Denied: You cannot apply again in the Regular Decision round.

Popular schools that offer the Restricted EA option: Boston College, Georgetown

Popular schools that offer the Single-Choice EA option: Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Harvard

The US college application process is probably one of the most complicated around, and we’ve only covered a fraction of it. But fear not! At least now you know the differences between the early admission options.

About the Author


Growing up splitting my time between Mexico and the United States, I’ve had first-hand experience and personal stake in the unique circumstances that a multi-cultural upbringing brings into the college admissions process and higher education in general. My sustained interest in the matter led me to volunteer as mentor to primarily underrepresented students throughout my high school and university experience.
While at Rice University, I pursued my interests in the sciences and fine arts, both academically and outside the classroom. In addition to serving as the director of a student-founded and student-run art gallery, I undergone training to become an Emergency Medical Technician my freshman year. After graduation, I decided to go international in my efforts to help students get into their dream school and moved to China full-time.

In my free time, I love walking around the city to my inner soundtrack of You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates, looking for hidden street art, and pretending those dogs at the pet store by my apartment will one day roam free on my made-up ranch in the south of France.