EA, ED, RD. Which Plan is Right For Me?
EA, ED, REA/SCEA, RD, Rolling, Priority. So many options. How does a student choose? This is one of the TOP questions clients and prospective families ask me, and it seems to cause some of the most stress when it comes to college applications.
Early Action (EA)
Early Action is a non-binding application plan, meaning if a student is admitted, they DO NOT have to attend the college or university. Applications are typically due between October 15-November 15, and students usually hear back from a school between Thanksgiving & mid-January. Decisions are usually released on the same day for all students who apply, and students are either admitted, denied, deferred, or in rare cases, waitlisted. If a student is deferred, they will usually have the opportunity to submit a mid-year report with academic progress from the fall and any updates to their application. This can include new scores, additional extracurricular activities, or additional honors earned since the deadline. Sometimes, a school will ask for another supplemental essay and occasionally will allow a new recommendation. However, each school will set its rules for deferrals, and the student needs to follow the directions. If nothing additional is permitted, then nothing extra should be sent.
EA is great for students who know that they can present a compelling application by the deadline. They are happy with their grades and test scores (if submitting) to date and do not see a significant change in their academic or extracurricular activity record occurring before January. Sometimes students must apply under EA to be eligible for specific majors, scholarships, or honors programs. I also recommend EA to students whose high schools do no give semester grades since there will be no changes to their transcript between October and January. Students who apply under EA typically start their essays in the summer to ensure adequate time to produce quality work. However, not every college has a supplemental essay or requires a personal statement, so don’t fret if you haven’t started writing yet!
Early Decision (ED)
Early Decision is a binding decision plan, meaning if a student is admitted to a college or university under this plan, they must enroll. Students, parents, and school counselors must sign an ED Agreement before an application is complete, so everyone should be on board. Students may only apply to one school under an ED plan, but they can apply to other colleges that use EA or Rolling admissions. However, if a student is admitted under an ED plan, they must withdraw all of their applications from other institutions. Like EA, deadlines are typically in November, and decisions are released in December. Like EA, students are admitted, denied, or deferred, although some schools don’t do deferrals. Some schools offer ED II, which has a deadline in December/January, and decisions are released mid-February. ED II can be an excellent idea for a student denied from their ED I school but had a very close second option.
ED has benefits since many colleges fill a significant portion of their first-year class with ED candidates. Some colleges also have significantly higher admissions rates for students applying under ED. However, because ED is binding, students need to be 100% on a school before choosing this plan. This means researching the school thoroughly, visiting campus (strongly encouraged), and talking with several current students. Parents also need to be mindful of cost and feel that this school is within the budget they have identified as appropriate. Run the Net Price Calculator and talk to someone in the financial aid office. Don’t assume that your student will receive a scholarship because they applied under ED. If there is any hesitancy, a student should not apply under an ED plan.
Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Single Choice Early Action (SCEA)
These are particular kinds of Early Action plans, where students are limited to the schools they can apply to, and only a few schools offer them. Boston College, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, and Yale University offer either REA or SCEA. Each has its own specific rules for the plan, so be sure to look them up. Like my advice in EA, students should utilize this plan if they believe their application will be complete by the deadline and truly like this school. Even though it is not binding, students would be giving up the opportunity to apply to a school under an ED plan, so the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, if a school is your top choice and offers this plan, it’s a great option.
Regular Decision (RD)
Regular Decision is the most common application plan. Deadlines vary from school to school, but students typically apply by January or February. However, I’ve seen some as early as November 1 for schools in Florida. Decisions for all students are usually released on the same day, often in March, and students will either be admitted, denied, or waitlisted. If a student is waitlisted, they will have to decide if they would like to stay on the waitlist. Some schools have *very* deep waitlists and have more students on the waitlist than they initially admitted. You can see waitlist statistics in the school’s Common Data Set. If you are admitted, you will have until May 1 to decide if you would like to attend.
Rolling Admission is my absolute favorite kind of decision plan. Students can submit their application at any time (deadlines are usually late-spring/early-summer), and decisions are released 2-6 weeks after a student’s file is complete. However, some schools process applications even faster, and I’ve had students find out within 48 hours. These schools often don’t require essays or recommendation letters, so they don’t take much time, and students aren’t waiting for months. I encourage my students to submit their Rolling Admission applications first. I think it is such an empowering feeling for students to know they are going to college early in the process, even if it’s not their top school. It can help create some momentum, especially in the throes of essay writing, that is needed to get students to the finish line.
Priority deadlines are ubiquitous at schools with Rolling Admissions. I ALWAYS encourage students to apply by the priority deadline since they often need to in order to be considered for merit scholarships and honors programs. Sometimes, it’s also required for students to be eligible for housing if a school doesn’t have enough residence halls to house all first-year students. Priority deadlines vary drastically- I’ve seen some in early November, while others go until March, so students should check with the specific institutions on their list and follow the processes they have in place.
Remember, the right application plan for you may not be the same as a friend, a neighbor, or even a sibling. Applying to college is a journey, and it’s okay to go at your own pace. Take your time. It’s better to wait to submit a strong application than rush at the last minute to hit a deadline.