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What Is Early Decision, Early Action, Single-Choice Early Action, and More? College Application Deadlines Explained

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It’s basically impossible to start the college admissions process gradually. Practically from the moment you fill in the final SAT bubble, someone is asking you for something. Your guidance counselor wants a list of schools by Friday! Your dream school wants you to schedule a visit ASAP! Your favorite teacher is waiting for you to formally request a recommendation! No matter what the task, deadlines abound during the admissions process. While it’s important to keep track of all of them, none are more important than the actual application due dates. Unfortunately it’s not quite as straightforward as circling a few boxes in your date book (jk, we know you don’t have a date book), and many questions can arise as you begin to compile a list of deadlines, like:

  • What is the difference between Early Decision and Early Action? 
  • Can I apply Early Decision if I am also applying to a Restrictive Early Action school?
  • What does “rolling” admission actually mean? 

Fortunately, we’ve got answers!

Early Decision 

If you are willing to show early commitment to one school in particular, you can apply to that school “Early Decision.” The deadline for this application comes about two months before the Regular Decision deadline, and admissions results come back in early to mid-December, about two weeks before Regular Decision Applications are due. Not all schools offer the option to apply Early Decision, but at schools that do, a growing proportion of the incoming class is drawn from this group of early applicants. Think very carefully before applying Early Decision, as it is a binding agreement. If you are accepted Early Decision, you must attend the school and withdraw all other applications. Students who do not honor their Early Decision agreement can end up in a lot of trouble, so be sure you know which schools require this kind of commitment from early applicants.

In brief: You can only apply to one school Early Decision, so save this option for your dream school.

Early Action

Early Action is similar to Early Decision in that it requires you to submit applications earlier in the admissions season and is a way for you to indicate your increased interest in an institution. 

The main difference is that Early Action is not binding, so you can usually apply to as many Early Action schools as you like (one major exception is noted in the next section) plus one Early Decision school! 

An increasing number of schools are offering an Early Action option, which means you will likely have a long list of EA deadlines to meet. As a result, you’ll need to have your personal statement and a whole stack of supplements completed for EA season, usually between October and November 15th. Make sure to get started early!

In brief: You can increase your odds of getting into one of your top schools by applying Early Action, and this often allows you to apply to one school via Early Decision as well. These deadlines are early and students may have multiple EA deadlines to meet, so be sure to keep an eye on your workload!

Restrictive Early Action (a.k.a. Single-Choice Early Action)

Restrictive Early Action, also known as Single-Choice Early Action, is relatively new to the admissions landscape and has more complex rules than general Early Action. Colleges can have different definitions of REA/SCEA, so it’s important that you double check the conditions for the schools to which you are applying.

Generally speaking, Restrictive/Single-Choice Early Action resembles Early Action in that it is non-binding. In other words, even if you’re accepted, you can still wait and see where the rest of your chips fall before making a decision. You apply by November 1st, receive your decision notification in mid-December (for most schools), and must accept or reject admission by May 1st. 

Restrictive/Single-Choice Early Action differs from Early Action in that you cannot apply concurrently to other Early Action or Early Decision schools. The one major exception to this rule is public institutions, like the University of Michigan. You are permitted, for example, to apply to Yale via SCEA and Michigan via EA at the same time. Schools offering EA for special programs or scholarship deadlines may also be exceptions, so be thorough with your research in order to take advantage of all your REA/SCEA/EA opportunities.

In brief: It’s in your best interest to apply Restrictive Early Action or Single-Choice Early Action if you’re absolutely sure of your top-choice school, even though the acceptance is not officially binding. However, REA will limit your ability to apply early to other institutions with the exception of public schools and scholarships/special programs.

Rolling Admission

Some schools operate on a “rolling admissions” basis, reviewing applications as they are submitted. This gives an advantage to students who submit their applications early in the season, so we encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible!

In brief: Rolling = ASAP!

Regular Decision

This is your last chance! This is the deadline you will aim for with any applications that are not submitted early. Give yourself a little breathing room so you’re not crunched trying to submit everything the night before. Regular deadlines usually fall around Jan 1st, but we encourage you to submit your applications before December 20th so you can enjoy your winter break!   

In brief: Even schools with Regular Decision deadlines deserve early attention!

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