EA, ED, REA, RD: What’s the Difference?

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If you’re applying to college, you may have heard of the terms Early Action (EA) Early Decision (ED)  Restrictive Early Action (REA) and Regular Decision (RD). These terms can be really confusing as you start the application process, but it is important for you to understand the difference between these concepts since they determine how you apply to college.

 

What Are the Differences?

 

Early Action (EA): Early Action is an admissions plan where you apply to the university early. This means that you must have all your admissions materials ready early in the school year. The advantage of applying EA is that you may have a slightly higher admissions chance since admissions officers read your application before the regular deadline. Early Action is not binding, meaning that if you are accepted, then you have the choice of whether or not you attend. You can also apply to as many EA schools as you choose, as long as they are not considered Restricted Early Action (REA).

 

EA applications are typically due either November 1 and November 15. This means that in order to apply EA, you would want to make sure that all your application materials are ready. If you are applying with standardized test scores and need to retake the ACT or SAT, you should take the tests by October, or early November (latest). You usually hear your decision in December.

 

Early Decision (ED): Early Decision is a type of admission where you apply early to a university, and if you are accepted, then you must attend. If you apply ED, you can still apply to other universities at the same time under their EA plans. ED may give you an admissions advantage as it shows your commitment to attend.

 

Some schools may offer 2 rounds of ED. ED 1 applications are usually due in Early November, although there are a few universities with applications due in early December. ED II applications are usually due January 1, and you’ll hear back in February. Under the ED II plan, you’ll still want to submit Regular Decision applications as well, but will still attend your ED school if admitted. Are you interested in ED II, but don’t know which schools offer this plan? Check out our full list here.

 

Restricted Early Action (REA): Restricted Early Action is similar to Early Action as it is a non-binding, early application plan with deadlines typically in November. However, since it is “restricted,” you are not allowed to apply to another university’s early application program. Like other EA and ED plans, this may increase your admissions chance since it shows admissions officers that you are dedicated to their university’s program. If you want to learn more, you can look at our full REA guide.

 

Regular Decision (RD): The Regular Decision plan occurs when you apply as a regular applicant to a university. Under this plan, you can apply to as many other universities you want under any admissions plan. RD applications are due in the beginning of January, giving you an ample amount of time to prepare all your materials. If you’re applying RD, the latest you should take the ACT/SAT would be in December in order to have enough time to apply with your scores. Under the RD plan, your application is compared to the entire pool of applicants, so you will not have an advantage like EA, ED, or REA candidates.

 

Rolling Admission: Rolling Admission means that applications officers admit students on a “first come, first serve” basis. Rather than reading all applications and then making an admissions decision, rolling admissions will accept students who are qualified as soon as their applications are read. This means that spots for an incoming class can fill up quickly. For rolling admissions, you’ll want to apply as soon as possible to maximize your chances of acceptance. 

 

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Does Applying Early Increase Your Chances?

 

Students are always eager to know if applying early increases their chances of admittance. Generally, yes, applying early does increase your chances. However, this is only if your academic profile is similar to those of admitted students. Otherwise, you would just be “wasting” your early application. Additionally, you’ll want to think about whether applying early (especially ED), may be right for you. It can be tempting to apply ED simply to get the college application process over as soon as you can, but you’ll want to reflect on whether you would be excited about the program and university if admitted. 

 

At CollegeVine, we’ve found that applying ED generally gives you a 10-12% admissions boost, while Restrictive Early Action has a 6-8% boost, and Early Action has a 4-6% boost. This is true even when controlling for profile strength (as many early applicants have stronger profiles and the admissions pool is more competitive). If you’re curious to find out ED and EA acceptance rates compared to RD rates, look at our ED/EA acceptance rates list

 

Do you want to know your true chances of acceptance to college? Check out our free chancing calculator. This tool will take into account your academic profile, extracurriculars, and background in order to calculate your chances of admittance. Although this tool does not yet have a feature to determine your chances if you applied EA or ED, it can still give you the opportunity to see your chances and determine in which areas you can improve. 

 

Pros and Cons of Each Admissions Timeline

 

Early Action

 

Pros: 

 

  • Application is read earlier by admissions, increasing your chances of acceptance
  • You will get your admissions decision back early, typically in December
  • You may have more time to write the college essays for the school since RD applications are due in January, and you’ll have to write a lot more essays then

 

Cons:

 

  • Timeline is much earlier so your entire application needs to be done quickly and you must submit ACT/SAT scores earlier
  • You will not have a chance to submit your first semester senior year grades
  • Your application may not be quite as polished as your later applications due to time constraints

 

Early Decision

 

Pros:

 

  • Can be a great option if you have a definite first choice school 
  • If admitted, you won’t have to fill out more applications
  • You may have more time to fill out your application because the deadline is early
  • You find out your admissions decision in December
  • Admissions rates may be higher 

 

Cons:

 

  • If admitted, you won’t be able to choose another university or negotiate for a better financial aid package 
  • You must attend the school if you are accepted and can’t “shop around”

 

Restricted Early Action

 

Pros: 

 

  • You may have more time to fill out your application since the deadline is earlier
  • You could have a higher chance of admission
  • If admitted, you don’t have to fully commit to the school but can consider other options
  • You’ll find out your decision early

 

Cons: 

 

  • All materials must be submitted earlier than RD applications
  • You cannot apply to other schools EA which may decrease your chances for other schools

 

Regular Decision

 

Pros: 

 

  • You have more time to fill out your application and can send the university your first semester transcript 
  • You don’t have to commit to a university, and can view your financial aid packages for other schools before you make a decision

 

Cons: 

 

  • You may be at a disadvantage and have a lower chance of acceptance in the RD pool
  • You will have to apply to many schools and won’t be done with the process in December, like some EA or ED applicants

 

Rolling Admission

 

Pros: 

 

  • If you submit your application early and are well qualified, you have a higher chance of acceptance 
  • You can fill out the application on your own timeline, although we recommend submitting as early as possible

 

Cons:

 

  • You have to be organized and ready to apply early under this plan
  • Unlike EA or ED which often increases your chances of acceptance, RA plans are dependent on the strength of the rest of the applicant pool

 

Now that you know about the differences between EA, ED, REA, and Rolling Admission, you may want to know more specific details about application deadlines. Check out our post on college application deadlines which includes deadlines for the Common App, supplemental essays, FAFSA, and ACT/SAT. 


Short Bio
Juliette is a senior at Cornell University studying Industrial & Labor Relations. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, running, drinking coffee, and exploring different hiking trails in Ithaca.

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