Application deadline decisions

It would be easy, to assume that with the increase in popularity of online applications (, and, that a variety of decisions would be streamlined for college applicants. Unfortunately, it’s just not the case.

Colleges appreciate the benefits of the common applications but many of them want to differentiate themselves and that’s where the variety of application deadlines play a critical role. The college application process is full of acronyms but none seem more confusing than those associated with application deadlines: EA (Early Action), ED (Early Decision) ED 1(Early Decision first deadline), ED 2 (Early Decision second deadline), SCEA (Single Choice Early Action and REA (Restricted Early Action) and Rolling Admissions.

Early Action (EA)

Early Action is a great gift for the well-prepared student. Students must submit their complete application by an earlier deadline, typically October 15 – November 15. Here are all the pieces of a complete application: any required essays as well as optional essays, high school transcripts (grades through junior year and a listing of their senior year courses), standardized test scores (SAT, ACT and perhaps SAT Subject Tests) and letter(s) of recommendation (if required)

The big perk here is that students receive notification of their acceptance, rejection or deferral much earlier, in many cases by December 15th. The best benefit is that EA is not binding, so students may apply to multiple schools EA and can even apply to one school Early Decision (ED), which is binding. Students who apply EA and are accepted are not required to notify the college of their decision until May 1.

Early Decision (ED), Early Decision 1 (ED 1) and Early Decision 2 (ED 2).

ED is straight-forward. You apply early – typically November 1 deadline and you’re notified early – typically by December 15 and if you’re accepted, it’s binding – you must go. Since it is binding, you are only allowed to apply to one college ED. But now a small number of colleges have added an ED 2, with a January deadline. ED 2 is frequently used by students who applied ED elsewhere and were either rejected or deferred. Colleges love students who apply ED. It allows them to have a better grasp of their numbers and how many students they’ll need to accept in regular decision. Many colleges have a surprising bump in their ED acceptance rates compared with regular decision.

According to the 2020 Princeton Review – The Best 385 Colleges,, Duke University,, more than doubles its regular acceptance rate from 10 percent to 25 percent for ED. Bucknell University,, jumps from 33 percent to 56 percent and American University, has a regular decision acceptance rate of 32 percent and it balloons to an astounding 87 percent ED.

There are trade-offs with Early Decision. Yes, the numbers can be very appealing but families need to understand that the applicant pool for ED is typically stronger. ED applicants are frequently athletes, legacy students, development cases (where the family has donated a lot of money), etc. Since the ED decision is binding, once students are accepted ED, they are asked to withdraw their applications from all the other schools where they applied. Applying ED eliminates any possibility for a family to compare financial aid offers or to even find out about need-based or merit-based aid at other schools.

Early decision a big decision.

Next week –  Restricted Early Action, Single Choice Early Action and Rolling Admissions programs.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;