US College Application: a brief guide to EA, ED, REA, RD, and Rolling Admissions

US college application deadlines vary but are usually between the Fall of a student’s senior year of high school and the Spring. Students may apply to multiple colleges and universities and should research each school’s specific requirements and application process.

Most US universities have different types of deadlines for their applications, including early decision, early action, regular decision, and rolling admissions. Early decision and early action deadlines are typically in November (though some may come even earlier), while regular decision deadlines are usually in January, with some as late as March. Rolling admissions deadlines vary by school, but typically last through the spring semester. It’s important to check with each individual school for their specific deadlines and application requirements.

This article explains the differences between each application deadline and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Early Decision

Early decision is a college application process that allows students to apply to their top-choice school early and receive an admission decision before the regular application deadline. If accepted, the student is required to attend the school and withdraw all other applications. It is a binding agreement and should only be used if the student is absolutely certain that they want to attend that particular school.

Early decision applications can benefit students who have a clear top choice for their college or university and are ready to commit to attending that institution if accepted. Additionally, early decision can increase a student’s chances of acceptance, as acceptance rates are often higher for early decision applicants. However, it’s important to carefully consider all options and make sure early decision is the right choice for your individual circumstances.

One of the cons of applying early decision is that it is a binding agreement, meaning that if you get accepted, you are obligated to attend that school and withdraw all other applications. This can be a disadvantage if you are still unsure about which school you want to attend or if you want to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools. Indeed, schools have little incentive to provide financial aid to a student who has already committed to attending at the time of application.

Some top schools that offer early decision programs include:

  • Dartmouth College
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Duke University
  • Northwestern University
  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Williams College
  • Amherst College
  • Swarthmore College

Early Action

Early action is a type of college application process in which students apply earlier than the regular deadline, typically in November, and receive an admissions decision earlier, most typically in January or February. It is non-binding, meaning students are not required to attend the institution if accepted, but it allows them to receive an answer sooner, thus limiting the anxiety that comes with uncertainty and giving more time to consider options.

Here are some top schools with early action applications:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • Duke University
  • University of Chicago
  • Johns Hopkins University

Applying early action signals substantial interest to universities, and thus provides a small advantage in terms of admission probability compared to regular decision.

Restrictive Early Action

Restrictive Early Action is an early application deadline that allows students to apply to a college early and receive an admissions decision before the regular deadline. Unlike Early Decision, students are not required to commit to attending the college if accepted, however, they are prohibited from applying to early action or early decision programs of any kind at other private institutions (early application to public institutions is permitted).

Restrictive early action applications can benefit high school seniors who have a strong interest in a particular college or university and want to increase their chances of acceptance by applying early. This type of application is particularly useful for students who have completed their college research and are confident that the school is their top choice. Additionally, students who have strong academic records and test scores may benefit from a restrictive early action application as they will have a better chance of being accepted before the regular decision pool becomes more competitive. However, these students also sacrifice the advantages they might otherwise have received by applying early to other private institutions on their list.

Here are some universities in the United States with restrictive early action:

  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University

Regular Decision

Regular decision is a type of college application deadline that falls after the early decision and early action deadlines. It allows applicants more time to submit their applications and usually has a later notification date.

Regular decision is typically recommended for students who are not ready to submit their college applications by the early decision or early action deadlines. Regular decision deadlines are usually in the later part of the school year, giving students more time to finalize their college applications. Some potential drawbacks of applying under regular decision to college include receiving a decision later in the admissions cycle (in some cases as late as April), potentially missing out on early decision or early action opportunities, and facing more competition for spots as regular decision pools tend to be larger. Additionally, waiting until regular decision to apply could limit your ability to compare and negotiate financial aid offers across different colleges.

Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions is a type of college application process where applications are reviewed as they are received, rather than waiting for a specific deadline to review all applications at once. Many schools offer rolling admissions, including Arizona State University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Alabama, among others.

In short, applicants should consider all these strategies and plan their application strategy accordingly.