Early Action, Early Decision, and Restrictive Early Action

Now that the college decision process is ending for the class of 2019, it’s about to start all over again for the class of 2020. So it’s time for rising seniors to begin thinking about college application strategies. One of the most important decisions is where to apply early--that is, with a deadline and decision date way before January 1st. Oftentimes, applying early will give your child special consideration, so it’s definitely a good idea not to waste any time! With that in mind, here are the different ways to apply early to college rather than “regular” (RD). In all forms of early applications, your child will submit an application by circa November 1st and receive an answer in mid-December.


Early Action: Applying Early Action means a faster turnaround for submissions and results, with no strings attached. Your child will be able to consider this offer among the other acceptances he or she receives. One can apply to several schools through early action, so long as such a student does not plan to apply to any restrictive early action schools. (More on that later.)


Early Decision: This is for applicants who are head over heels in love with one school. Early decision is a binding application to one school of your choice (when you submit it, you are agreeing to attend if admitted in this round). One major advantage of ED is that it ups the odds of acceptance. A comparison of the statistics of early versus regular decision-admitted candidates show that at many top-tier universities, applicants who were admitted ED have lower standardized test scores than their RD counterparts.


Restrictive Early Action: Restrictive Early Action is an application plan that is “somewhere in the middle” between EA and ED: it’s not binding, but there are strings attached. In particular, REA applications come with rules about where you can and can’t simultaneously apply. Some schools--like Georgetown and Notre Dame--require only that you not submit Early Decision applications to other U.S. universities, while others--Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford--have a plan known as “Single Choice Early Action,” which requires that you not apply EA or ED to any other U.S. private university.


With the stakes so high, one might wonder why to submit an REA application at all. In fact, HYPS officials say that applying early does not boost your odds of admission. (The admission rate is higher, but the admissions offices claim that this is because of selection effects in which more qualified students apply early.) With that said, REA/SCEA can be worth not applying to other private universities if your heart is set on one of the schools with restrictive early action policies.


Fun fact: The award for most draconian admissions policy goes to the University of Pennsylvania, which up until 2016 required its ED applicants not to apply to any U.S. private universities EA. Talk about demonstrated interest!


Picture from Common App.

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