In this page:

  • ED, EA, RD? What do all those acronyms mean?
  • ED: Early Decision
  • EA: Early Action
  • RD: Regular Decision
  • Rolling Admission
  • Deadline

When to apply?

Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision, or Rolling Admission—What are the differences? 

ED, EA, RD? What do all those acronyms mean? 

Every college has its own deadline for admission, and sometimes it has more than one. 

Many colleges offer early application options—Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), or Rolling Admission, for example—so your student’s first-choice school could begin accepting applications (not to mention providing your student’s admission fate) months before other institutions. Getting materials in ahead of the pack may seem like an easy choice but may not be the ideal one, as each option comes with its own set of pros and cons.

In terms of early application options, some schools have only ED, some schools have only EA, and some schools have both. To further complicate matters, some schools now have two rounds of ED (ED I and ED II) and/or EA (EA I and EA II), one with an earlier date and one with a later date.  

ED: Early Decision

Acceptance = student must attend. Binding.

Early Decision means that if your child is accepted, he must attend (providing financial aid is adequate). Student can apply to ONLY ONE school ED. Some schools offer two rounds of Early Decision (see below).

The deadline to apply is usually around November 1, with notification of the school’s decision by December 15.

Pros:

  • College knows they’re the student’s first choice
  • Smaller pool of applicants
  • Potentially better odds of being admitted (depends on the school)
  • High-achieving students don’t need to wait on mid-semester grades or awards 
  • Student finds out early if he will go to his first-choice school
  • Certain scholarships require a student to apply early

Cons:

  • Application has to be completed early
  • Colleges only see grades and activities through the end of junior year
  • If student changes his mind about the school, he still must attend
  • Student gets only one financial aid package. Because the school knows the student is serious, they don’t have to woo him with money.

Has your child known where he wanted to go to school since he could talk? If so, consider Early Decision. A student may apply to only one school ED, but they can apply to as many others through Early Action or Regular Decision as they wish. However, if he’s accepted ED, all other applications to other schools must be withdrawn. 

Early Decision I and II

ED I is the typical Early Decision explained above. ED II is a second-round binding decision, essentially identical to ED I but with a later deadline. This choice seems to have emerged to capture applicants who were turned down by their first ED/EA choice and are now prepared to declare their love to their second-choice school. The deadline for the application is generally the same as for RD, but a decision is sent far sooner, usually in early February. 

EA: Early Action

Acceptance = student may choose to attend. Non-binding.

Early Action means that if your child is accepted, she may choose to attend. Student can apply to as many schools EA as desired, providing the school doesn’t have restrictions (see Georgetown University, Stanford, or Harvard as examples of Restrictive EA, also possibly called Single-Choice EA). 

The deadline to apply is usually around November 1, with notification of the school’s decision by December 15.

Pros:

  • College knows they’re among the student’s first choices
  • Student may apply to other schools under early admission (depends on the school)
  • Potentially better odds of being admitted (depends on the school)
  • Smaller pool of applicants
  • High-achieving students don’t need to wait on mid-semester grades or awards 
  • Student finds out before the end of the year if she will get into a school she desires
  • If the student is accepted, she can save application fees on RD schools
  • Certain scholarships require a student to apply early

Cons:

  • Application has to be completed early
  • Colleges only see grades and activities through the end of junior year

Early Action is in essence a best-of-both-worlds option: If accepted, the student can accept the offer right away or wait until the spring and compare all of their offers before making a final decision.

RD: Regular Decision

Most students choose RD, as there are no restrictions as to how many colleges they can apply to and aren’t bound to attend a specific one. 

The deadline to apply is usually December 31 or January 1, with notification of the school’s decision by April 1.

Pros:

  • More time to get application together
  • Student may apply to as many other schools as desired
  • Student can wait until all mid-semester grades, activities, and/or awards are in 
  • Financial aid packages can be compared

Cons:

  • Student doesn’t find out about acceptances until March or April
  • Potentially many application fees
  • Student is in the giant pool of applicants

Rolling Admission 

Rolling Admission means that the college will accept applications for a longer period of time—often throughout the year—and will choose from the applicants as they are received. They do not wait for a particular due date. You may or may not hear from them earlier than other schools.

The deadline to apply depends on the school, as does the notification of the school’s decision.

Pros:

  • Student may apply early in the year to get an early answer, often within a few weeks
  • An early acceptance will greatly relieve college-app anxiety (for both parents and student!)
  • Student can wait until all mid-semester grades, activities, and/or awards are in

Cons:

  • Spot may fill early, as soon as their entering class is full
  • Financial aid may dry up, as it is awarded as students are accepted

See the highest-ranked schools with rolling admissions.

Deadlines

Whatever way the student applies, they can’t miss the application deadline! The student needs to check with each college, as they’re all a bit different. 

Remember, a deadline is the latest possible time an application can be submitted. No one says it cannot be submitted earlier. 

The deadline for accepting a college’s offer of admission is usually May 1. 

Financial Aid, FAFSA and CSS deadlines are different. Each university/college has their own. Stay on top of those as well.