EA, ED, REA – with all these acronyms, the differences among all of them can often be confusing to tease out. Admissions Hero offers a deeper look at each of the early application options:

What’s the difference?

EA, or Early Action, is a non-binding, non-restricting application with an earlier deadline than Regular Decision (RD). You are free to apply to as many other EA schools as you please, and you have no commitment to enroll in the EA school(s) you are accepted to. REA, or Restricted Early Action, is a similarly non-binding early application, but the difference is the REA application is exclusive, precluding you from applying to any other schools in the early round. Lastly, Early Decision (ED) is a binding and non-exclusive early round application. This means that if accepted to your ED school, you must enroll. Note that ED does not preclude you from applying to other EA schools, but if accepted, you must withdraw all other applications and enroll in your ED school.

What are the advantages of applying for each?

In general, applying early (regardless of which type) is a good idea because if you are accepted to your early school(s), you’ll be able to trim down your regular decision application list to only those you would still consider attending over your early acceptance school. Additionally, you will be met with a hard deadline on a single application that you can focus on intensely. This will allow you to gauge your essay-writing abilities for the RD round and give you a better sense of how much time you will need to write each essay.

Early Action: With EA, you have the benefit of indicating your top choices while simultaneously being able to apply to many schools early. This is most beneficial for those who want to apply to a wide range of schools. For applicants looking to apply to top-tier schools, a popular portfolio includes EA applications to MIT and UChicago.

Restricted Early Action: Similar to EA, REA is also an indication that the school you are applying to is your top choice. This route is particularly advantageous in indicating your definite preference for one school. For example, if you lived near Princeton but were extremely interested in attending Harvard, you might apply REA to Harvard to assuage the admissions committee’s reservations that you might attend Princeton over Harvard if accepted to both in the RD round. Purely numbers-wise, REA schools accept a significantly larger percentage of applicants from their early pool than during the RD round: Princeton University, for example, had an REA acceptance rate of 18.5% for the Class of 2018, whereas its RD acceptance rate was a mere 5.4%.

Early Decision: ED is the ultimate declaration of love for a particular school. Due to its binding nature, the acceptance rates for ED schools are significantly higher than their RD rates: For example, the University of Pennsylvania accepted a staggering 23.9% of its ED applicants for the Class of 2018 while accepting only 7.3% of applicants in the RD pool. One important item to consider when applying ED, however, is the potential for Financial Aid: while the thought of such a tactic might be hard to digest, it is possible that you might be offered a lower financial aid package if accepted ED, since you must attend no matter what. Of course, barring extremely extenuating circumstances, there are severe consequences if you decide to renege on your ED commitment, including but not limited to having your high school blacklisted from the college for an indefinite period.