Early Decision, Early Action, Early Decision II: Demystifying the Differences, and Deciding Which is Right for You

Early Decision, Early Action, Early Decision II: Demystifying the Differences, and Deciding Which is Right for You

As application season nears, you might begin to wonder which decision cycle you want to apply in, and how this choice affects your likelihood of getting into your dream schools.

Given that the early deadlines are coming in soon, we at IvyPrep would like to give you a quick rundown of the early application options, and how you can use them to your benefit.

To apply early to a school is to show your interest in it. This is particularly true in the case of Early Decision, which is binding, and Restrictive Early Action, which forces you to limit your early applications to one institution.

Let’s have a look at the different application cycles and what they mean for you. Early Action could still benefit you; getting your application read earlier is a plus if you’re able to get all your materials early sooner.

Lastly, Regular Decision (RD), is when most people will be applying to the largest range of universities.

It’s imperative to be strategic, focused and directed, whichever cycle you’re applying in!

Early Decision (ED)  

Do you have a school that you love and that you think is right for you? Do you have a school that would be your first choice no matter what? Find out if they have an ED programme, because you’ll want to look into it.

You want your ED school to be a tippy-top choice because you’re bound to it once you’ve gotten in. This shouldn’t be a school that you feel lukewarm about, or that you aren’t too sure about attending.

"When you apply ED, you are not only applying to get in, but deciding to attend." - Divya Maniar

ED gives you the biggest application boost, and has a significantly higher acceptance rate, at most institutions that offer it, than RD. This does not mean, however, that you should expect the requirements to be lower.

The applicant pool is stronger and very determined. Remember that you will be applying against people who love this school as much as you do.

Benefits of Applying ED:

  • You get to demonstrate interest in a university and let them know beyond doubt that it is your first choice. As a result, admissions officers will look more favourably upon your application.
  • You will write your application earlier, and before you have to get down to business on RD applications, giving you the opportunity to focus your energy and attention on that one school. The deadline is usually in November.
  • Your application will be seen sooner, giving you an edge over RD applicants with similar profiles.
  • If you get in, you have a lot of certainty and more time to plan and get ready for your next chapter. Decisions usually come out in December, before the regular deadline.

Some ED schools

  • Brown
  • Dartmouth
  • Columbia
  • Cornell
  • University of Pennsylvania

ED results

  1. Accepted – Congratulations! You’re in and you’re going!
  2. Deferred – You’ll be considered later in the RD pool; people still get in after being Deferred, but note that the admission will no longer be binding.
  3. Rejected – You do risk being rejected early when applying ED, which means you will be ineligible to apply in the RD cycle.

Restrictive Early Action  (REA)

While the REA deadline is around when ED ones are, this early programme is non-binding, allowing students to continue to apply to other universities, even if accepted.

While applying under REA does not constitute a binding obligation to attend a university, it does still show interest and sacrifice, given that you will have chosen this over applying early to any other school.

Additionally, it gives admissions officers the chance to read your materials over sooner, which, as noted, gives you an edge over students with similar profiles.

While the admissions boost from REA is not as big as that from ED, it is still significant enough to be worthwhile, especially if you have your sights set on a school which offers it.

Some REA schools

  • Harvard
  • Yale
  • Princeton
  • Stanford

Early Action  (EA)

EA is not binding and non-exclusive, allowing you to apply to multiple EA schools. While less restrictive than other early programmes, this still allows you to get a foot in the door early, and more peace of mind if you get in.

Some EA schools:

  • Caltech
  • MIT
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Northeastern University

REA/EA Results:

  1. Accepted — Congratulations! You’re in! It’s still up to you whether you go.
  2. Deferred — You’ll be considered later with the RD pool.
  3. Rejected — Like an ED rejection, this disqualifies you from RD that year.

Early Decision II (ED2)

Some schools, in addition to ED, have a second round. This is a good option for people who were deferred or rejected from their ED/EA school.

It is also a good option for anybody who wants to risk applying to a high reach school in the very first early application cycle.

If you have a second choice in mind that you feel very confident you will want to attend above your other RD schools, this is a good option for you.

The consequences of ED2 are similar to those of ED, in that it is binding: you have to attend if you get in.

The benefits are also similar: you give admissions officers confirmation of your interest, and as a result, the admissions rates are higher. The main difference is deadline: ED2 deadlines come later in January, and, as such, this application must be sent off alongside Regular Decision applications.

Some schools that offer ED2:

  • Bowdoin College
  • Pomona College
  • UChicago
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Amherst College 

ED2 Results:

  1. Accepted — Congrats! You’re in and going!
  2. Rejected — Like an RD application, you only get considered the one time with ED2, so a rejection is final!


We hope this article, in explaining the different kinds of early admission, has been helpful in your decision process, and in figuring out which option is right for you.

Though applying early will not change everything, it can do a lot for students who are organised, prepared, and qualified. Good luck!