When going through your applications, you are not only applying to schools, but deciding what round to apply to certain schools. There are three types of application deadlines: Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision. Each has its own unique set of characteristics and reasons you might apply to them. Thinking about which decision you’ll apply per each school can also help you to be strategic in the admissions game.
Early Decision (ED)
Early Decision (ED) is perhaps the most precious of the application decisions because you can only choose one university and it is a binding agreement, meaning that if you are admitted to the school you will enroll there and withdraw applications to all other universities. You also receive your admissions decision response earlier, generally in December, so you will know more readily if you have been admitted or not. It is an excellent decision in applying to your dream school, especially if that school is more competitive. Because Early Decision is more limited because you can only apply to one school and it is binding, the applicant pool here tends to be more self-selective. They’re immediately telling the university, Hey! If you admit me, I’ll definitely be here in the fall! It gives admissions officers an idea of who then they need to admit Regular Decision (RD) to create their fully rounded freshman class.
Statistically, your chances of being admitted ED are higher than being admitted RD. What this means is that fewer people are applying in this application pool and more are being admitted from it. Admissions rates might be more like 20–30% ED versus 5–15% RD, as an example, but this varies greatly by school’s selectivity. Admissions officers will still want to see the same standards in transcript, test scores, activities, and other elements of the application; you still cannot cut corners, but if you’re really serious about the university and it’s your absolutely top choice, then applying ED can be highly beneficial and strategic.
Sometimes students will scramble to find a school to apply to ED. While they’re certainly playing the strategy game well, I always moderately question this urgency. ED is an excellent choice, but if you don’t want to be locked in because you have other schools as interests, it is certainly okay not to apply to an ED school.
Because of the unique status of ED, many schools have begun to offer ED I and ED II. ED I is the first round of ED; you would apply to this school first, and then if admitted, you would enroll there. Even applying ED I, you might be rejected or deferred to RD, where you would then be within the general applicant pool and receive your answer in the spring. ED II allows you the opportunity to apply to an additional school with the unique benefits of ED if you were not admitted to your ED I school. Those applications generally come due in January, and you will receive your application in February, enroll at your ED II school, and withdraw all applications elsewhere.
Early Action (EA)
Early Action (EA) is the less intense version of Early Decision. This is a non-binding application that you submit earlier, generally early to mid-November, varying by school. In my opinion, if a school offers EA, there is almost no reason not to take advantage of this particular application decision. Essentially, EA has an earlier deadline for turning in your application materials. You’re telling a university, Hey, I’m really interested in attending your university! I have all my things in early because my mind has been set for some time. The benefit of applying Early Action is that you’ll receive your response from your university(s) sooner than the Regular Decision pool, usually December-February. You’ll still have until May with the national deadline for enrollment to make your final decision, but you’ll have peace of mind that you’ve gotten in if you were admitted.
Regular Decision (RD)
Regular Decision is the general round of applications due anywhere December-February varying by school. In this application round, you will be in with most people who are submitting their applications. Decisions will be released in the spring, usually in March or April. This allows you free reign to make your decision on where to enroll as your admissions decisions begin to roll in.
You might choose RD for a number of reasons. For one, not all schools offer ED or EA, so there are some limitations with how you’ll be allowed apply to them. It is likely as well in working on your school applications that nearly every school will have supplemental essays. In order to have quality work, you may not be able to do all of them ED and EA. Applying RD gives you more time and space to collect all the materials necessary and ensure they reflect your best quality work. Additionally, finances are a real factor in admissions. You might need to know about financial assistance afforded to you before committing to a university. This is a very common reason as well to apply RD.
Which is right for you?
There are a number of factions that go into deciding which application round is right for you. One that I most recommend is prioritizing schools based on your personal preference. Prioritize your top choices and most competitive schools for ED and EA as appropriate. Not all schools offer all decision options, so noting this information early can help guide you to make the right decision.
If financial assistance is also necessary for you to attend a university, applying RD or EA will allow you to learn about what financial aid will be available to you because you make this decision. This is one of the most common reasons that people may refrain from applying ED.
Obviously in applying to EA or ED, these applications occur sooner. You need to make sure that you give yourself proper time to collect your materials and ensure their quality. This means that in reality, you might need to limit how many schools you apply to EA versus ED. To help make this decision, firstly priority. If you want to apply this round, which school is most fitting? Then with schools that offer EA, decide which ones are your top picks. Move down your priority list from there as you have time; RD will still allow you to apply to the school and give them your decision, you just won’t have their response until April or March so you’ll have to wait a little longer. You might also think about which of your schools are more competitive or selective schools, or which are your reach, match, and safety schools. Those that are more selective or that are reach or preferred matches I would prioritize over less competitive or safety schools.
In the end, if you apply, you will receive an answer! The above advice should help to guide you with the potential benefits of each admissions decision and which is best for you.