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EA/ED Guide

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

October 2023: I have updated this guide to include additional information about REA and ED.

Table of Contents

Application Types

IMPORTANT: Each college's policy is unique. Please read the fine print before applying. If you have questions about a specific college's policy, contact their admissions department directly.


Do I have to go if I get in?

Where else CAN I apply?








RD, ED2, select EAs*



RD, EA, ED2 (usually)



RD, EA, ED1 (usually)






  • REA = Restrictive Early Action

  • SCEA = Single Choice Early Action. This is another name for REA.

  • Any ED due around November counts as round one. Schools can call this "ED" or "ED1."

  • Most schools call EDs due in January "ED2."

Key terms: binding vs. nonbinding

  • Binding: you have to go if you get in.

  • Nonbinding: you don't have to go if you get in.


Aggressive Strategy

This requires you to be proactive and 100% sure about your top-choice reach and target schools.





1st choice

If your 1st choice doesn't have ED/REA, don't ED1 somewhere else


Top-choice target school

Make sure this ED2 allows you to apply to an ED1


All other reach schools

Make sure your workload is manageable. Prioritize EAs required for your major/program.

Alternative Strategies

  • Not sure about top choice: EA 2–3 top choices

  • Sure about top choice(s) but busy: ED1 or ED2 your top choice(s) or top target(s) and RD all other schools (unless EA is required)

Important ED Exceptions

  • If you are in the middle of an important project that extends beyond November, RD all schools.

  • If your grades are weak junior year, consider applying RD to your top choices to show that you've improved academically in the fall of senior year.

Sometimes you have to apply EA

Some schools require EA for certain reasons:

  • Eligibility for merit scholarships

  • Impacted majors (popular majors)

  • Honors programs

Please carefully check the schools you are interested in applying to. It would be prohibitively difficult for me to check all private schools for required EAs.


Early Action

These are usually due early November. EA is nonbinding: you are not required to go to this college if admitted. Your result will usually come around December (although COVID and SAT-optional policies have pushed back admissions decisions).

People disagree about whether early action improves admissions chances.

Most people acknowledge that, if EA does help, it is less helpful than ED.

Aaron's EA thoughts

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to do the supplemental essays. A rushed EA is weaker than a polished RD.

  2. You will improve at the why this college essay with practice. The first one you write will probably be your worst—unless you have a special reason to go to this college.

  3. Even CollegeBoard's listed benefits of early action are not very impressive.

Restrictive or Single-Choice Early Action

REA and SCEA are stronger than EA because they communicate a higher degree of interest.

They are also less predatory than ED because you can more meaningfully compare financial aid packages.

REA: what other EAs can I apply to?

Special Academic Programs

You are allowed to apply to "special academic programs" and honors programs that require EA. However, you still cannot apply to any ED1s or REAs (any other binding applications).

For example, Drexel's BA/BS+MD Early Assurance is a special academic program.

I called Stanford's admissions department and confirmed that you can apply to both Stanford REA and Drexel BA/BS+MD. Alternatively, you could apply to Harvard REA and Drexel BA/BS+MD. (However, you cannot apply to two REAs.)

However, since NSU's BS/DO allows you to apply EA, ED, or RD, you would be required to apply RD to NSU if you wanted to apply REA to Stanford or Harvard.


REA does not restrict you from applying to other colleges that require an EA application for you to be considered for certain scholarships.

For example, the University of Southern California requires you to apply EA to be considered for their merit scholarship. In this case, you would be allowed to apply REA to Stanford and EA to USC.

Public Schools

You can still apply to nonbinding public schools. For example, while the University of California deadline is 11/30, this does not conflict with any private-school REA.

Early Decision

Early decision is binding: you must go if admitted.

Early decision is split into two rounds: ED1 and ED2. They are called "rounds" because they happen in order and don't interfere with each other. You'll get an ED1 decision before admissions officers look at your ED2 application. If you get into your ED1, you have to tell your ED2 (and all other schools).

If a school only has one option called "Early Decision," it is most likely ED1.

  • ED1 (sometimes just called ED) is usually due early November.

  • ED2 is usually due January.

ED1 most strongly improves your admissions chances out of all the application types. However, you must still be qualified to be accepted.

Most colleges say ED2 is for when a college is your top choice but you don't have time to submit by the ED1 deadline.

In reality, ED2 gives aggressive applicants a stronger bid for their top-choice target.

Although this isn't how colleges intend ED2 to be used, I don't think you should feel too guilty. Early decision is widely criticized as predatory and creates the most stress for students out of any application option. You can't compare financial aid offers, and families don't know that you can, according to the NYT, exit the ED contract if you can't afford their offer.

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