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ED, EA, REA, RD - Making Sense of the College Application Alphabet Soup

Happy 2023 to everyone! Flipping the calendar to January often prompts people to contemplate new beginnings and upcoming opportunities, and your family may be starting or resuming its focus on your child's journey to college. This time of year always brings a good deal of chatter about the different types of college application deadlines as students who applied via early deadlines (ED, EA, REA) start to hear back from colleges, and those who are applying RD put the finishing touches on their applications. Students who have received deferral decisions as a result of their early applications may also be considering whether they want to apply to another college ED II vs. RD.

If you are just starting to explore the college process, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by this alphabet soup of application deadline options, including ED, EA, REA, ED II, and RD. As students research and/or visit colleges and begin to build their target list of best-fit schools, one important consideration is HOW and WHEN they will apply to each of the schools that interest them. Understanding the different application options is critical to confidently navigating this process. With this in mind, please read on for explanations of each of these application options.

EARLY DEADLINES: EA, REA, ED EA stands for Early Action, and this is a NON-BINDING method of applying to college. One easy way to remember this is that A stands for Allowable. You may apply to as many colleges via EA as you like. EA deadlines are typically November 1, but some may be as early as October 15 or as late as November 15. There are many benefits associated with applying EA, such as receiving your decision from the college earlier (usually sometime in early to mid-December, although some schools may not provide decisions until January or February), gaining the access to the highest possible merit scholarship dollars before the college allocates its annual budget for these funds, and benefiting from a slightly higher acceptance rate at some colleges. The cons include the need to produce a robust application earlier in the school year and the inability to include your first semester senior year grades.

REA stands for Restrictive Early Action (which you may also see referred to as SCEA – Single Choice Early Action), and this is also a NON-BINDING application method. The key difference between REA and EA is that you may only apply to ONE college via REA, and schools that offer this application option have various rules that restrict an applicant's ability to apply to other colleges using early application methods. Colleges that offer this application method – Georgetown, Harvard, Notre Dame, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale – are very selective. The pros of applying in this way are the same as for EA, with the caveat that REA provides an even more substantial bump in acceptance rates to these highly selective colleges. The cons are also the same as EA with one notable addition – the inability to apply to some other types of schools via an early application method.

ED stands for Early Decision, and this is a BINDING method of applying to college. One easy way to remember this is that D stands for Definite. ED deadlines are typically November 1. Just like REA, you may only apply to ONE college via ED. You may simultaneously apply to as many schools using EA as you like. While the pros of ED mirror those of EA, the major benefit is an often 2-3X higher percentage acceptance rate among the ED pool of applicants (vs. those who apply RD/Regular Decision). Thus, for highly selective schools, a 15-16% chance of acceptance via ED is much more enticing than the 4-5% acceptance rate achieved by RD applicants. Of course, with great upside comes some significant considerations that families must contemplate carefully. Because ED is binding, a student (and their parents) must sign a pledge that they will attend that college if accepted. This means that a student must be very certain that the college is their top choice, and a family must have thought through the financial implications of the possibility of admission to the college. While many colleges that offer ED pledge to meet all financial need, the college's definition of this and a family's own reality/financial obligations may differ. Thus, a significant con to this application method is the inability to "shop around" with regard to the financial/merit aid packages that other schools might offer.

Just to complicate things further, another version of ED is ED II. This is exactly like ED in all respects, except the deadline is usually in early January. This method of applying has popped up with increasing frequency at colleges as a means for a "second bite at the apple" – another opportunity to show your commitment to a school due to the binding nature of this decision method and thus to gain the benefit of a higher acceptance rate. Students who were deferred or denied by their ED college or those who did not decide upon a favorite school in time for the November deadline often seriously consider applying to a college using ED II.

STANDARD/TRADITIONAL DEADLINE: RD RD stands for Regular Decision, and this is the more traditional method of applying to college that has existed for generations before colleges over the past few decades increasingly added one or more early application options. RD deadlines, particularly for highly selective and selective colleges, are typically in early January. Some colleges have RD deadlines that can extend into February or even later. Many students will apply using a mix of early deadlines and RD, given that some colleges only offer ED and RD and students may only choose one ED school. The pros of applying RD include having more time to complete a thoughtful, robust application (including submitting first semester senior year grades for those whose GPA is trending upward and/or taking the ACT or SAT an additional time) and having no limits on the number of schools to which you can apply. The cons are having to wait to learn your decision until as late as early April (with a decision required by May 1, that leaves little time to visit a school again or for the first time) and potentially forgoing the opportunity to benefit from merit scholarship awards.

While this short tutorial outlines the basic definitions of these application options as well as some of their pros and cons, there are many other nuances involved in the calculus of strategizing about how to apply to each school on a student's target college list. At Laura George Consulting, we love to support families by assisting them in gathering all the facts, examining them, and forging the best plan for their child's applications. If we can be of help to your family in the college search and selection and/or application strategy process, please contact us at 847-363-6780,, or by filling out our request form for a free 20-inute phone consult on our website at

Thank you! Our entire team at LGC wishes you the best in 2023!


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