ED vs EA vs RD

Introduction

Ever wondered about the difference between Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA) and Regular Decision (RD) for the US University Commonapps Applications?

Let’s explore these 3 options and what they mean for your US university application journey. Find out more at Quintessential Consultancy, a leading expert in UK and US university admissions.

What is Early Decision (ED)?

Early Decision (ED) is a binding agreement between the applicant and the university, with submission deadlines typically by November 1st. It is termed as such because it allows an applicant to get in early (typically by end-December). Applicants are not allowed to apply ED for more than 1 university otherwise, both the high school and the applicant will be blackmarked.

If accepted, the applicant is also obligated to attend the university. Should you decide not to attend after receiving the ED offer, the university has the right to legally pursue the matter. This rarely happens though as prestigious universities often have no lack of candidates and it is too much time to waste on a candidate that does not want them. That being said, it can harm your reputation as other universities may be hesitant to accept you.

Pros:

  1. Higher acceptance rates: By showing your commitment to the university, ED increases chances of admission due to higher acceptance rates. On average, ED applicants see a 1.6x (or 60%) increase in their chances of admission to selective universities.

      2. Reduced stress: Early admission decision reduces stress and provides more planning time for college.

Cons:

  1. Binding commitment: Limits flexibility and may complicate financial aid negotiations by requiring applicants to decline offers from other universities.
  2. Preparation Deadline: SATs and portfolio (e.g. Olympiads, research mentorships, internships, community service, leadership roles) should be completed by October, as ED applications rely on strong academic and extra-curricular achievements.

What is Early Action (EA)?

Early Action (EA) is a non-binding application to a university, with submission deadlines typically by November 1st. It also allows the applicant to get in early (typically by end-December to mid-February). Unlike ED applications, EA allows you to apply to multiple universities. If accepted, you can then decide whether to accept or reject the offer up until the Regular Decision (RD) acceptance deadline of May 1st.

Thus, an EA may be preferable to an ED as it provides the flexibility to choose and is non-binding. However, not all universities offer EA — some will only offer ED. EA results are also released later than ED results. Applicants should take note that universities usually only offer admissions to the most deserving ED/EA applicants based on academic grades and portfolio i.e. ED/EA does not offer any easier entry advantages for average students.

Pros:

  1. Flexibility: EA allows applying to multiple universities with the option to choose from multiple acceptance offers until May 1st. Chances of admission are also increased — acceptance rates are higher compared to RD.

      2. Reduced stress: Early admission reduces stress and provides more planning time for college.

Cons:

  1. Limited availability: Not all universities offer EA, limiting options for non-binding applications.
  2. Deferred notification: EA results may not be available until end-December to mid-February, prolonging the waiting period and adding uncertainty.
  3. Shorter application window: A shorter window may impact application quality due to less time for polishing.
  4. Preparation Deadline: SATs and portfolio (e.g. Olympiads, research mentorships, internships, community service and leadership roles) should be completed by October, as EA applications rely on strong academic and extra-curricular achievements.

What is Regular Decision (RD)?

Regular Decision (RD) is the standard non-binding application process, with a longer window for application submission and deadlines typically by January 1st some exceptions include the University of California (November 30th), Dartmouth College (January 2) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (January 4). The applicant will also receive their notice of acceptance at a later date as compared to ED and EA, typically by mid-March to mid-April.

RD offers an extended time frame for applicants to finalise their applications and ensure that their best work is reflected. While RD allows for more time to refine applications and compare offers, this can result in a longer waiting period, adding to the anxiety of the university admissions process.

Pros:

  1. Extended application period: RD offers more time to bolster applications, gather recommendations, potentially earn scholarships and meet deadlines.
  2. Non-binding commitment: RD allows considering multiple offers before making a final decision.

Cons:

  1. Delayed notifications: RD results arrive later, between mid-March to mid-April.
  2. Increased competition: A larger applicant pool may lead to heightened competition for admission slots.

Overall Table of Comparison

Concluding Remarks

When considering Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA) or Regular Decision (RD) applications, QC strongly advises applicants with exceptional academic records and robust portfolios to thoroughly research their target university. Success in ED/EA requires meticulous preparation in academics, SATs, and extracurricular activities. Additionally, applicants who are almost within reach of their target university in terms of academic grades and portfolio achievements, and who hold strong convictions about their choice, are also encouraged to pursue ED.

However, if the target university remains somewhat out of reach in terms of academic grades and portfolio achievements, QC recommends applying via Regular Decision (RD) while focusing on preparing for final exams. It’s essential to recognise that each student’s journey is unique, taking into account their academic progression, readiness and aspirations when evaluating all 3 options. Do not be disheartened if you opt not to pursue ED/EA or if you are unsuccessful in securing ED/EA offers, as the acceptance rate for these applications typically hovers around 10%.

Finding out which universities offer ED/EA options and understanding the differences in acceptance rates between early and regular admission applicants is crucial. Applying as an ED/EA applicant, particularly for universities where early applicants have slightly better odds, could be a strategic move. Readiness as an applicant should also be considered if relocating for university involves extensive planning or if you’re an international student requiring time for visa arrangements, ED/EA options provide clarity sooner and allow for better preparation.

Ultimately, for many highly competitive universities, ED/EA options offer a significant admissions edge over RD due to their smaller applicant pool.