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ED, EA, REA, SCEA – These acronyms are tossed around a lot during college application season. They each represent different ways that colleges may invite students to apply for admission, but not all schools offer all approaches. It’s easy to get confused by the rules, benefits, restrictions and considerations for each application approach. We’re here to break it down for you!

Regular Decision (“RD”): This is the default application option for many colleges and universities, with deadlines ranging from December through February, depending on the school. There are no restrictions on the number of schools to which a student can apply RD. RD can be a good choice if a student wants first-semester senior-year academic results included in their application, or if they simply are not prepared to apply at the earlier deadlines.

Early Decision (“ED”): This is a binding agreement between an applicant and a college. On their application, the student indicates that their “ED” college is their first choice and that, if admitted, they will attend that school. Typically, ED deadlines are in November. At most colleges, applicants who apply ED are admitted at higher rates than those who apply RD. 

Sometimes, a college will offer “EDII.” This is another opportunity to apply with a binding agreement and potentially benefit from a higher admission rate. Usually, a college’s EDII deadline is the same as its RD deadline. Students whose ED applications are denied at their first-choice school may decide to apply EDII to a second-choice college, especially if it’s highly selective, to possibly boost their chances of admission.

This blog post offers an overview of the potential benefits of applying ED. 

Early Action (“EA”): Unlike ED, Early Action applications are not binding. While applying EA to some colleges may afford applicants a small advantage, in most cases, the only difference between EA and RD is an earlier deadline and an earlier decision notification! Deadlines are typically in November, but students are not required to commit until May. A student may apply EA to as many schools as they wish, unless they are applying anywhere as “REA” or “SCEA” (see below).

Restrictive Early Action (“REA”) and Single-Choice Early Action (“SCEA”): Many highly selective universities offer one of these approaches. Like EA, these options are nonbinding, so students applying to multiple schools will have the opportunity to compare financial packages from the schools that admit them. However, these options come with restrictions:


  • Students are only allowed to apply REA to one college
  • They cannot simultaneously apply ED to any schools
  • They can still apply EA to other colleges 


  • Students are only allowed to apply SCEA to one college
  • They cannot apply ED or EA to any other academic institution – although some universities have SCEA policies that allow students to apply EA at public universities, at schools with nonbinding “rolling admission” (see below) and at international schools

If a student’s REA or SCEA application is rejected, they can still apply RD to other schools (or to those that offer “rolling admission”).

Rolling Admission: Colleges that offer rolling admission review and evaluate applications as they are received. There are no application deadlines and students may apply any time throughout the application period. Acceptance is on a first-come, first-served basis, and is nonbinding. Students who are ready to submit their applications can get a decision from a school with rolling admissions early in the admissions season – sometimes, even before they start their senior year!

Each school’s restrictions for Early Decision, Early Decision II, Restrictive Early Action and Single-Choice Early Action can be very specific, so students should double-check all of the application options for their chosen schools and take the time to consider what approach is best for them.

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