ED, EA, RD, RA - What does this mean and when you should apply?


School is back in session, and it is time to put pedal to the medal on college applications! This is an exciting time for us, because it means all the preparation (getting good grades, participating in activities and community service, creating a college list) for the college admissions process FINALLY turns into action. Around this time every year we start getting questions about when college applications are actually due, because when students go back to school they hear that one friend has already applied, while another hasn’t been on a single tour. While college application deadlines are consistent in some ways, the truth is each student’s deadline calendar will look a bit different based on where they’re applying, and if they choose to apply early decision, early action, regular decision, or rolling. Which leads me to another topic that often needs clarification: What the heck do these terms mean, and why are there so many of them?! Great question! Read on for the answer…

Early Decision: Provides an opportunity to apply at an earlier date (often months before the regular decision deadline) and hear back far sooner than the regular decision students. The caveat: if you are accepted to a college or university, you MUST attend because early decision is a binding agreement. In addition, you can only apply to ONE college as early decision.

You should apply ED if: You have a clear #1 choice, and have completed the application and all additional materials before the early decision deadline, and are happy with your test scores by this date. Most colleges and universities accept early decision students at a higher rate, so there is a benefit to applying ED if you can.

Avoid if: You do not feel sure that you rather attend on college over all others, would have to race to complete your application on time, or are unable to submit better test scores or certain activities due to the earlier deadline.

Early Action: Provides an opportunity to apply at an earlier date (often months before the regular decision deadline) and hear back far sooner than the regular decision students. Unlike early decision, you can apply early action to multiple schools, and have no obligation to attend if admitted.

You should apply EA if: You have completed the application and all additional materials before the early action deadline, and are happy with your test scores by this date.

Avoid if: You would have to race to complete your application on time, or are unable to submit better test scores or certain activities due to the earlier deadline.

Regular Decision: This is the actual date when applications are due. There is some uniformity here, for instance, the Cal State applications open on October 1st and are due November 30th and the UC applications came online August 1st and are also due on November 30th. Many private school applications are due in January, and some allow applications as late as mid-February (but those are more rare).

You should apply RD if: Your applications, test scores, and additional materials will be ready by the RD date and no earlier, and if the schools you are applying to only have an RD option.

Avoid if: You don’t want to have to wait until sometimes as late as April to hear back from colleges with acceptances.

Rolling Admission: Provides an opportunity to apply at an earlier OR later date, and opersates similar to a first come first serve basis. A very limited number of schools offer rolling admission, but for students who began the application process late, this option can be a great one.  

You should apply RA if: You want to apply very early and hear back early, or started the application process late and can not meet other regular decision deadlines.

Avoid if: There are no real downsides to rolling admission.

If you’re left thinking “but, which option should I choose?”, that is where Bound4College’s expertise comes in. By getting to know our individual students and families we can best make recommendations and create an application timeline for each student. Want to learn more? Please contact us through our website today!

Rebecca Rehfeld