College application processes

Understanding Early Action and Early Decision applications

Knowing the pros and cons of the Early Action and Early Decision application routes will help students choose the best option for their college application.

Richard Lord
September 1, 2022
5 min
Understanding Early Action and Early Decision applications
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Understanding Early Action and Early Decision applications

Recruitment management is a vital issue for all universities as they want to enroll diverse students and ensure a decent yield rate. In the US, one important way they can do this is through the Early Action and Early Decision options, which help to increase the percentage of accepted students who eventually enroll. 

This also allows students to be an early applicant and potentially secure a place early. Read on to know all about these routes of application.

Decoding EA, ED, and RD applications

With Early Action (EA), a student can apply to several universities with an early deadline for applications and decisions, without any commitment to accept offers early. However, there are a few colleges which offer Restricted Early Action or Single Choice Early Action. This implies that students cannot apply early to any other college if they choose the Restricted Early Action option. However, there is no obligation to enroll if they get an offer. Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Stanford are some institutions that follow this route of application. 

With Early Decision (ED), a student makes a firm commitment to attend a particular college if they are given an offer by it. They can  apply elsewhere through EA, but if their ED college gives them an offer, they have to accept it. It’s split into two phases, known as ED I and ED II. ED is a popular option among students who have a clear idea of their first choice of college, and a reasonable expectation that they can meet its admission requirements.

The alternative is Regular Decision (RD), the default process, which involves applying to any number of universities at the usual time.

The pros and cons of applying early

Opting for EA or ED allows students to gain an assured place in college early in their senior year. On the other hand, it’s a lot of commitment to make at an early stage.


- Applying early is a great way for a student to demonstrate their enthusiasm for a particular college. Recruiting teams value such demonstrated interest.  

- Students receive a decision early, giving them more time to plan and apply for scholarships, removing a potential source of stress.

- Students are likely to apply to a smaller number of colleges, cutting the time they – and you – spend on paperwork.

- Many colleges, although not all, accept a higher proportion of EA and ED applicants than RD ones. Hence, the possibility of getting an offer increases. 

- If a student isn’t accepted, they still have a second chance through RD.


- Students have less time to decide on their choice, and have to commit to that decision early.

- Students will have to accept any financial aid offered along with their acceptance.  They can’t do much about it at that point, and they can’t compare offers from different colleges.

- For some students, an early place can lead to complacency and a drop in academic performance.

EA and ED college recruitment trends

The EA and ED system helps universities manage the enrollment process, which is related to two metrics: 

  1. Selectivity- the ratio between applications received and the number of students accepted.
  2. Yield- the ratio between accepted students and those that eventually enroll.

These numbers can impact the assessment of colleges for the purpose of rankings. 

The overall acceptance rate across US universities is higher for ED than RD applications. At Boston College, for example, 39 percent of ED applicants were admitted during the 2020-21 admission cycle, constituting 48 percent of all admissions, while just 17 percent of RD applicants were successful.

Other factors to consider

Remember that programs vary from college to college, so ensure that students discover all the details of the application options at the colleges they’re targeting. 

Please encourage students to be realistic in their choices of EA and ED colleges and assess whether they’re a good fit on a personal and academic level. They should be able to meet the  exam score requirements and other academic expectations. The availability of ED, in particular, is not a reason for a moonshot: try to discourage students from making overly optimistic choices.

ED has historically been considered an ideal option for the strongest candidates, but that need not necessarily be the case. Students who are not among the highest achievers can also benefit from ED. Because of the assured enrollment upon acceptance, colleges tend to be more generous towards those who apply through ED – although that’s not the case for EA. Students who do not need financial aid or have a sports scholarship stand a good chance of selection. 

Colleges that decide not to accept an ED applicant can defer their decision and treat that person as an RD applicant, though the probability of getting accepted is low. 

Application deadlines

The deadlines for EA and ED I are either November 1 or November 15 for most colleges. However, please advise students to check a university’s website for the exact deadlines.  Results are announced by December 15 for ED and late January or early February for EA. ED II applications are accepted till January 1 or 15, with decisions typically around February 15.

For RD, application deadlines are in early January, with decisions from mid-March to early April. Remind students interested in ED and EA that if their applications are unsuccessful, it doesn’t leave them long to take the RD route.

Ensure that students note the deadlines for EA and ED applications for colleges they’re interested in and keep track of the decision dates for the colleges where they have applied.

To find out more about the ED and EA application deadlines that students need to know, download the PDF below.

Final tips

- Please remind students that ED is a substantial commitment. They should be absolutely sure about a college before applying and physically visit the campus if possible.

- Students also need to make sure they can afford any ED college they have in mind, given that acceptance will mean they’re committed to paying.

- Remember that ED I isn’t the only option; there’s also ED II. Also, some colleges allow RD applicants to convert to ED.

- An ED acceptance isn’t a license for students to relax in their senior year. They still need to hit their academic targets – universities can and do withdraw offers if they fail to do so.

- Once students receive an ED acceptance, they must withdraw all their other applications.

To sum up, if students want to be successful with an EA or ED application, they must research their shortlisted colleges thoroughly, focusing on whether they’re the best fit for them academically and culturally, and work out precisely what attending those colleges is going to cost. 

We have designed a comprehensive resource for students with the timelines for ED applications and an easy-to-use task tracker to plan their actions from September to November. Fill out the form below to download the PDF. 

Download a crisp to-do checklist and application schedule for Early Decision and Early Action applicants.

Fill out the form below

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