Crafting a college application is more than just choosing the right awards to emphasize or writing the perfect essay; students must also decide how they want to apply. With Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Restrictive Early Action (REA) and Regular Decision (RD) all on the table, it can seem daunting to decide which application is best for you. Here’s a look at each way to apply, with benefits and drawbacks:
ED is the strictest of all the application types; by applying this way, you are indicating to the college that you will attend regardless of financial aid (or lack thereof). Students who apply ED are doing so with the knowledge that should they get in, they are contractually obliged to go; thus students can only have one ED. Due to this stipulation, students should not apply ED if they are unsure about a college or cannot afford full tuition, as once they hit submit, there’s no going back. Conversely, students who are certain of their dream schools—and whose parents are willing to pay full tuition—should apply ED if the college offers it since it shows they are very interested in attending. ED deadlines are, as the name suggests, due earlier than regular decisions with a deadline usually in late October or early November. Early Decision II is becoming increasingly popular, with a deadline in January instead of October. A list of all the American colleges that offer ED, whether that be ED I or ED II, can be found here.
Senior Megan Yang applied ED to UPenn and was accepted. “I’m in [Science] Research which has been a big part of my past four years in high school, so I wanted to go somewhere where I could continue that. UPenn is a place that places an extra focus on completing undergraduate research and getting internships, even compared to other top universities,” she said.
Early Action/Restrictive Early Action
Unlike ED, EA is a nonbinding—but still early—application. REA is a version of EA except the student can only apply EA to one college. The types of applications a college offers vary from school to school, so it is important to read the rules before applying. EA tends to have a deadline in early November, slightly later than ED. The benefits of applying EA are that it still shows interest in the college, but is nonbinding, meaning if the college doesn’t offer sufficient financial aid, students do not have to attend. REA boasts similar benefits, but with a drawback of only being able to apply early to one college. Even though ED and EA are not necessarily mutually exclusive, students who apply ED likely won’t apply EA and vice versa due to the binding nature of the former. A list of all American schools that offer EA can be found here.
Senior Imani Bodet was accepted to UChicago after applying EA. “I chose UChicago in particular because Chicago is my favorite city in the US, and I liked their core class system and health and society minor. I was also intrigued by their unique essay prompts, and I think they reflect the uniqueness of the student body,” she said. UChicago offers both ED and EA options, but Bodet chose EA because she “wanted to be able to look at [her] financial aid situation before committing to a school.”
When thinking about applying to college, RD is likely the type of application that comes to mind. The vast majority of applicants apply RD, hence its name “regular” decision. With most colleges setting their RD deadline for early January (one notable exception is the UC system whose applications are due in November), applying this way gives students plenty of time to refine their application. One major drawback is that RD acceptance rates tend to be lower than ED or EA, particularly for competitive schools. Regardless, this is the only decision method that allows students to apply to however many schools they want.