College Applications: REA, ED, and EA options

Who benefits from applying REA, ED, or EA?

Despite popular belief, applying to colleges Early Decision (ED), Restricted Early Action (REA) – also known as “Single Choice Early Action” – or Early Action (EA) is not always advantageous.  I wrote about this two years ago; here is a bit more focused information.


How to make REA, ED, or EA decision requires an understanding of admission types as well as the student’s academic standing and depth of extracurricular activities. Below is a discussion of what each option means and when it can be an advantage.

REA (Restricted Early Action)

  • What is it? REA means the student signs an agreement promising, in exchange for an early answer from the college, not to apply Early Action or Early Decision to another school. The typical REA application deadline is November 1.
  • How does it work? If a student applies REA, they will receive an answer by mid-December.

Admission via an REA application is non-binding; the student can still accept admission to another college, or wait until May 1 to accept the REA admission offer. Approximately 10 colleges offer the REA option, the most elite of the elite colleges. Those colleges are confident that a student admitted REA will attend, even if they have other admission offers later or wait until May 1 to commit.

  • Who will benefit from applying REA? Applying REA benefits the college, not the student, because the college will admit only the VERY BEST QUALIFIED of the BEST STUDENTS. A student who is not among the very best qualified is unlikely to be admitted. In fact, applying REA is a disadvantage to the student, since the student foregoes opportunities to apply Early Decision or Early Action to other colleges.

ED (Early Decision):

  • What is it? ED (Early Decision) means the student signs an agreement promising, in exchange for an early answer from the college, that if admitted to the college, they will attend. It is a binding agreement, one that requires the parents and the school counselor to also sign an affidavit saying the students understands the agreement. The typical ED deadline is 11/1. A few colleges also offer an “ED 2” option in December or January.
  • How does it work? When a student applies ED, they will typically receive an answer by mid-December (or within 30-45 days for ED 2 applications). A student can only apply to one college ED (and an REA application is not allowed). If admitted via an ED application, the student must respond to accept the offer, typically within 2 weeks, and place a deposit soon after. Per the ED agreement, the student is then required to withdraw all other college applications. A few hundred colleges offer the ED option. 
  • Who will benefit from applying ED? For the right student, this option can increase the chance of admission by up to 2%.

EA (Early Action)

  • What is it? EA (Early Action) means the student submits the application and all supporting documents by a college’s EA deadline (ranging from 10/15 to 12/15) in exchange for an early answer from the college. A student can apply to multiple colleges EA, in addition to an ED application if they wish. The EA option is offered by several moderately to less selective colleges.
  • How does it work? If a student applies EA, they will receive an answer within 30 to 45 days after the EA deadline. An EA admission is non-binding; the student can wait and decide by May 1.
  • Who will benefit from applying EA? For the right student, EA applications offer a chance to complete the process early and then have peace of mind. Knowing they will have good college options allows them to calmly wait for answers to their college applications AND focus on making their senior year successful and memorable. For other students, however, an EA application is a disadvantage.

Senior students and parents, this is what we have been discussing in your meetings at CPSi about the REA, ED, or EA decision and which application method is best for you

For other students and parents who want to learn how to become the “right student” who would benefit from an REA, ED, or EA application, connect with CPSi. We’ll tell you the facts about the most compatible steps to improve the chance of getting into the quality colleges you most deserve.

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