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Check out an article below by one of our amazing college admissions mentors, Rosanna Kataja!


College application terms can get really confusing, especially if you are an international applicant or just new to college applications. Different deadlines to get into the same school! What does it mean to apply through Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision? I remember struggling to figure out all of this, but now you don’t have to. 

This post will explain the differences between Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, and Regular Decision. I will also discuss whether it is beneficial to apply early, because there are a lot of rumors going on about that. 


Applying through Early Decision is binding. This means if you apply through the early decision and get in, you have to attend that school and have to withdraw any other applications you may have submitted by that time. You can only apply to one college under Early Decision. If you are not accepted, you will either be rejected or deferred. If you get rejected, you can’t apply again that year, so that college has closed its doors for you. Deferred applicants will be reconsidered in the regular admission pool, and can apply to other schools for Regular Decision.

Basically, if you get deferred, it means that you were strong enough that they didn’t want to reject you, but are not yet sure if you are the best possible fit and make the decision once they have the Regular Decision applications. 

Early Decision deadlines are often in November (Ivy League schools are usually November 1st), and students are typically notified of the decision in December before they have to submit their regular application. This means you’d have to work on your other school applications during that time just in case, but if you get in, you don’t have to submit new applications. 


​​Early action is non–binding. This means you do not have to accept the offer from the school if you are accepted. You can also apply Early Action to multiple colleges. Early Action deadlines are usually at the same time as Early Decisions, so November. It might be a nice chance for you to see if you’d get into your favorite school, but you are still not sure if you’ll change your mind about that. 


Restrictive Early Action is also non-binding. You aren’t obligated to attend if accepted, but you cannot apply to any other schools in the early rounds. The title is quite self-explanatory. The only difference between Early Action and Restrictive Early Action is that in Restrictive, you can only apply to one school for the early round deadline. Important to note: some colleges (for example, Harvard) only have Restrictive Early Action option for early application. They don’t have Early Decision or Early Action options. You must check the options for each school you want to apply to because all of the different early application options are not always available.


This is the easiest out of all of these terms. Regular Decision means that you can apply to as many schools as you want to without any restrictions or having to choose what school you like the best. The deadline for that is typically around late December and early January. 


I get asked this a lot. Luckily, I have talked to an actual admissions officer from Harvard about this, so you can trust my answers here!

One thing that makes many students think applying early is better because the acceptance rate is generally higher in early application rounds than in the regular application cycle. 

However, don’t rush to submit your early application just yet! There are a few reasons to explain this phenomenon, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better chance to get in with early action:

A substantial amount of legacy students

Legacy students are those whose family member attended that school, which is often viewed favorably by the admission committee. The applicants have probably known for years that they will apply to the school, knowing they have the edge with their legacy status.

Important note: being a legacy student won’t 100% guarantee you get in. You still need a strong application no matter what. 

Generally stronger application pool

When someone has set their intentions to get into one specific school, usually they have put a lot of effort into the application and in general, are more prepared and have better chances of getting in. Those people very likely would get in regardless of when they apply. 

Therefore, if you are a strong applicant, your chances of getting it won’t differ much in early and regular application cycles.

The early deadline serves those who have a strong preference for one school so that they can apply and know the result earlier. If you get in before the regular deadline, it saves you some time and nerves having to apply to other schools and waiting to hear from them. It’s there merely for convenience, so don’t worry too much if you don’t want to apply early.

The following is the most important piece of advice that you should take away from this post: don’t apply early unless you can make your application perfect for the early deadline. It’s a thousand times better to apply regular deadline with a strong application rather than put an application together quickly just to apply early. It will not serve you.

I applied to all schools in the regular decision, and I got into Harvard. More than half of the class each year gets in from the regular decision pool. I personally felt that I needed more time to perfect my application, and that was the right move for me. 

Hope this post was able to help ease your anxieties about the different, very confusing, deadlines for US college applications. All in all, apply when you’re ready and don’t worry too much. If you’d get in through early decision, you have a very good chance of getting in in the regular decision too.


Article originally posted here.


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