Early Action vs Early Decision

The Difference Between Early Action (EA), Restrictive Early Action (REA), and Early Decision (ED).

When applying to American Universities, students and parents are often confused by the early round application options. Because some of these options are binding (meaning the student must attend the school if accepted), understanding each option is imperative. Keep in mind that not all Universities/Colleges offer all the options for early round.

Does Applying Early Increase Your Chances of Acceptance?

Applying early surely increases the student’s chances of acceptance. For example, the following data compares acceptance rates for Ivy League universities in the early and regular decision rounds:

Brown University5.73%21.07%
Columbia University4.33%15.91%
Cornell University8.34%24.26%
Dartmouth College6.88%24.89%
Harvard University2.76%14.54%
Princeton University3.81%14.79%
University of Pennsylvania6.47%18.55%
Yale University4.69%14.69%

The truth is that applying early demonstrates the students’ sincere passion for the school. It shows that they are prepared to commit to attending that college or university. Plus, students are compared to a smaller pool of applicants.

Another benefit of applying early is finding out whether the students have been admitted to their top choice(s) early in the process. This reduces the stress and anxiety of waiting and gives more time to make college plans.

Types of early round applications

Early Action

Early Action is a non-binding early round application. This means that the students are not obligated to attend if accepted Early Action. Many schools have both Early Action I and Early Action II. Early Action I generally has a November deadline, with students receiving the school’s decision by mid-December. Early Action II usually carries a January deadline, with applicants hearing back 4-8 weeks later.

Most schools allow students to apply Early Action to multiple colleges and universities. Students aren’t required to notify the school of your decision to attend until May 1, the same “college deadline day” as Regular Decision.

Restrictive Early Action

Restrictive Early Action (sometimes Restricted Early Action) is another non-binding option. Students aren’t obligated to attend if accepted. However, if they apply Restrictive Early Action, they may not apply to any other schools in the early rounds. Applicants are expected to sign a statement that they agree to file only one early application.

Applying REA clearly indicates to the school that they are number one choice, and it can significantly increase their chances of acceptance. Like EA applicants, REA applicants have until May 1 to make their decision.

Early Decision

Unlike EA and REA, Early Decision is a binding early round application. This means you apply early to a school and, if accepted, you must enrol. The Early Decision application deadline is typically in November, with students receiving a decision by mid-December.

Some schools allow you to apply early to other programs, as long as they are not binding, while others ask that you submit only one early application. If you are accepted Early Decision, you must withdraw any applications to other schools.

Applying Early Decision can increase your chances of acceptance, but only use this option for a school that is a clear first choice.

Regular Decision

Regular Decision deadlines are generally between January 1 and February 1, depending on the school. Applicants are notified of the admissions team’s decision by April 1, and they must respond signifying that they will or will not attend by May 1.

Regular Decision is not an early round application, and students will be compared to a larger pool of applicants. It is not binding, and students can apply Regular Decision to as many schools as you would like.

Rolling Admissions

Some schools have rolling admissions, which means that applications are evaluated and decided on as they are received. These schools don’t have a set deadline, although students will need to apply several weeks before the start of the term they’re interested in attending.

Additionally, applications are only accepted until all spots are filled, so it’s better to apply early rather than late. You can apply to as many rolling admissions schools as students would like, even if they’ve applied Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, or Early Decision to other schools.

Additional Information About Applying Early

Keep in mind that the definitions offered here may vary slightly by school. To be sure of an individual school’s policies regarding early applications, visit the admissions section of the school’s official website.

When students apply early, they may be accepted, rejected, or deferred. Being deferred means that the school will consider their application again in the Regular Decision round. In the meantime, students are free to continue applying to other schools. Some schools make final decisions in the early rounds and don’t defer any applications.

The Bottom Line

Early round applications are an excellent option if you have a clear top choice (or 2-3 top choices). Applying early can increase chances of acceptance and give students more time to make plans for college.

The key difference between early round applications is that Early Decision is binding, while Early Action and Restrictive Early Action are not. Rules about whether students can apply to other schools) may differ by college. If students need more time to boost their GPA or earn a higher SAT score before applying, it’s best to wait until the Regular Decision round. Whenever they decide to apply to colleges, we highly recommend keeping a calendar with all deadlines clearly marked.

We at CLC help our students organize a calendar with applications’ deadlines so to never miss one and keep reminding them the importance of choosing wisely and strategically when deciding on ED, REA, or EA!


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