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EA/ED Guide

Updated: Jul 24

Table of Contents

  1. Application Summary

  2. Aggressive Strategy

  3. Alternative Strategies

  4. Early Action

  5. Restrictive or Single Choice Early Action

  6. Early Decision

Application Summary

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?

What else CAN I apply to?








RD, ED2 (sometimes)


ED or ED1*

RD, EA, ED2 (usually)



RD, EA, ED1 (usually)






  • REA = Restrictive Early Action

  • SCEA = Single Choice Early Action

  • ED1, round 1 of Early Decision, is due November. See Early Decision for more info


Aggressive Strategy

This requires you to be proactive and 100% sure about your top two choices.

Decision Type




1st choice

If your 1st choice doesn't have ED, don't ED 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

Alternative Strategies

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

  • Sure about top choice but busy: ED1 your top choice and RD all other schools

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

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 mean you can only apply early to this college.

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.

However, you still need to give yourself plenty of time to polish your supplemental essays.

Early Decision

Early decision is binding: you must go to this college if admitted.

Early decision is split into two rounds: ED1 and ED2. 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.

Round 1 ED most strongly improves your admissions chances out of all the application types. However, you must still be qualified for a college 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 second choice.

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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