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ED and EA: Comparing & Considering Early US College Application Plans

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

As Fall semester begins, the big thing on 12th graders’ minds is preparing and sending out college applications, whose ‘regular’ decision deadlines tend to fall in January or February.

The lead up to this point has been very purposeful – scoring well in tests and getting great grades, choosing the ‘right’ classes and activities, researching and visiting colleges, brainstorming a personal statement, approaching recommenders, filling in the Common Application, etc. In other words, applicants have focused on doing everything ‘right’ in order to optimize their chances of getting into the college of their choice.

No sooner are they back at school after the summer that, particularly in high schools with more competitive environments, they start to hear whispers of who is ‘applying early’, and to where. Early application plans are often unfamiliar and confusing to students, adding more stress to the process, as they wonder ‘am I missing out on an opportunity if I don’t apply early?’

About one quarter of colleges in the United States offer Early Decision (ED) plans and about 38 percent offer Early Action (EA), with some colleges offering both plans.

In addition, a few select institutions offer Restrictive Early Action (REA), also known as Single-Choice Early Action, under which applicants may not apply ED or EA to any other college. Some colleges offer two rounds of each option, ED I and ED II, or EA I and EA II.

With all these options, it is no wonder that the terminology is daunting!

So, in a nutshell, what are ED and EA?


ED and EDII, which has a later deadline, are both binding. An applicant may only apply to one college in each round of ED. If they get into that college, they must attend, unless it is financially impossible.

By applying ED, students indicate to that college that, if admitted, they will commit to attending and will withdraw any other applications.

ED applications are usually due by the end of October or beginning of November of the senior year of high school and decisions are released by mid-December, months in advance of the usual notification date.

If a student is deferred from an ED application, they are released from this binding commitment and if they are subsequently accepted in the ‘regular’ pool of applicants, they are not contractually bound to attend that college.


EA and EAII, which has a later deadline, are different from ED and EDII in that they are non-binding. Students may apply to as many EA schools as they want and do not have to attend if they are accepted. EA applications are typically due on or before November 1st and decisions are released in January or February. If they are accepted, they may still apply to other colleges under regular admission plans, and give the college a decision no later than the May 1 national response date.

REA means that students may not apply EA or ED elsewhere and can only apply to that one college REA. Other than this, it works the same way as EA.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of applying early?

• Admission rates in the early application pool tend to be higher, although the degree to which this occurs varies from one college to another.

• Often, the students who apply early are top students with excellent grades and test scores, so this option is not always the best choice for every student.

• Yield rate, or the percentage of accepted students who end up enrolling, is very important to colleges, as it allows them to predict accurately for financial purposes and is weighed by many college rankings. Therefore, because ED applicants students are obligated to attend, they may help their chances by applying ED because they enable that college to more accurately predict their yield.

• A disadvantage for students who apply under ED plans is that they are not able to compare financial aid offers from other colleges and must commit to accepting a financial aid package before they see it.

• EA does not have a significantly higher acceptance rate, although most EA programs still provide some admissions advantage.

• The biggest advantage of applying EA is that applicants find out earlier whether or not they are accepted.

In my next blog, I’ll share some important things I directly tell my students and their families who are considering applying Early Decision or Early Action!

By Emma Hoffman, Bennett Senior Consultant & College Application Expert.

To see & hear Emma talk more about it all on our porch, please click here.

Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.


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