Regular Decision, Rolling Admissions, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision — what does it all mean?

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Should you apply early to college? Generally, the answer is a resounding yes.

Too many students wait to submit the bulk of their applications Regular Decision (RD) when they could take advantage of Rolling Admissions (RA), Early Action (EA), Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Early Decision (ED) mechanisms to enhance their chances of admission — and alleviate much family stress in the process.

You may submit college applications far in advance of deadlines: Deadlines are not due dates. Let’s take a look at the different deadlines to help you determine which strategy is best for you.

Rolling admissions. First, and most often overlooked, is RA. Some colleges, such as Washington State University, accept applications as early as September and offer seats on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Too few students take advantage of submitting early to an RA school. Likely to be given good news in just a few weeks, students who have a solid high school record and fit the school’s academic profile should strongly consider applying in early fall to RA schools.

EA, REA and ED. Next, seniors should determine whether EA, REA or ED is appropriate. Both ED and REA limit a senior to one school — a single choice — to which the student may submit an application early. Students may, however, submit additional applications concurrently via RD.

All three of these early application methods have their advantages. For each, a student submits applications in the fall — usually between Nov. 1 and 15 — and receives notification prior to winter break — frequently in December — as to whether they have been accepted, denied or deferred admission. If deferred, applicants are placed into the RD pool. Accepted applicants may enjoy winter break free from worry and having to hammer out additional applications.

Who should apply EA? Students with grades and test scores at or near the middle 50th percentile of the colleges’ applicant profiles and who wish to demonstrate a preference for those schools. This usually gives the early applicant a competitive advantage over seniors who apply RD.

A student with grades and test scores significantly below the desired school’s student profile, or whose transcript depicts a checkered academic performance, might wait to apply until their first-semester grades are in to demonstrate improvement. Being
accepted EA is not binding, and the family can wait to review financial aid packages from all schools prior to sending a deposit by the National Candidates Reply Date, May 1.

ED, on the other hand, is binding: If accepted, a student must withdraw all other applications and attend their ED school, forfeiting the right to see financial aid offers from other colleges. For students who can make finances a secondary concern, ED is a powerful way to declare love for a school and increase the odds of admission, sometimes significantly.

Who should apply ED?
• Students who have identified a clear No. 1 school.
• Students whose grades and test scores might place them in the lower quartile of applicants, yet who desire a competitive chance for admission to a “reach” school.
• Students who are applying to “lottery” level (most highly selective) schools.
• Students whose family can, in a manner of speaking, buy a seat, effectively employing an “advantaging the advantaged” application strategy.

Because of today’s nuanced college application process, an increasing number of families seek assistance from independent college consultants in tandem with high school guidance office support. Regardless of whether you decide to complete college applications independently or hire help with an independent college counselor, finish your applications early!

Emily Wagner Gallagher is the founder of Edge Academics & Athletics in Lake Forest Park.