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Applying Early? Here's What to Know

ED, EA, REA, EDII strategies...what to do where?  This question is now at the forefront of high school seniors’ minds as we navigate college admissions in this incredibly unusual year.

First, a question I often get asked is, “Should my student apply Early Decision I?” What hasn’t changed this year is that ED I is still a binding commitment generally due November 1 for schools that offer the option (some have dropped it this year). Applying ED I also continues to be a strategy for applying if you have a clear #1 choice.  

The acceptance rate at most colleges that offer ED I is normally two to three times higher than the Regular Decision acceptance rate, so it makes sense to take advantage of the option at your #1 choice if it’s available--that’s easy. The other easy choice is if your clear #1 choice does not offer ED, because then you won’t apply anywhere ED--you don’t want to end up wondering if you could have gotten into your first choice.  

For everything else in between, it’s a bit harder. If you feel ambivalent about your favorite 2-3 schools that don’t offer ED and your favorite one that does, it’s worth doing more work. Imagine you got accepted to all of will you decide where to go? Do the research, talk to current students, do virtual tours, evaluate as if you’re really choosing, and see if the ED school comes out on top. It’s tough to make the choice without visiting any of the schools in-person (and, of course, we generally can’t at the moment), but sometimes a clear choice does emerge and you can pick a path, so it’s worth doing the work.

Restrictive Early Action is a little trickier, so I’m going to ask you to do some work. REA is not binding, and for some schools, the admissions rate is no different from the RD admission rate.  To find out, look at the Common Data Set for the school in question. You can usually just Google “[College Name] CDS” and it will pop up. Make sure you’re looking at the CDS that’s on the college’s website, not somewhere where it may have been filtered. Sections C21 and C22 are data on Early Admission programs, and oftentimes you can find the REA data there. Notre Dame, for example, says in that section that they don’t offer ED but they do list their REA numbers. From that, you can see that they admitted 25.8% of REA applicants. If you do a little math, you can also calculate the admission rate for Regular Decision applicants (you need to subtract the REAs from the total numbers in section C1), and it comes out to 1,983/16,621=11.9%, more than 2x the Regular Decision admission rate--so you treat it as an ED but follow their restrictions.  

EA is much easier to decide. I advise all my students to apply EA everywhere they can (assuming that their application is not going to benefit from an extra semester of grades or another test score), and, for their first choice school, ensure that they mention that they will matriculate if admitted. While it’s not binding, the college will like knowing that if they admit you, you will come. Other than that, check REA restrictions (if you are planning to apply REA somewhere) and go for it--it will make December MUCH less stressful.  

Lastly, ED II. ED II is really asking the question, are we your second choice? ED II deadlines are generally at the same time as RD deadlines, so the application itself is no different; you’re just committing to attend the ED II school if admitted. The logic is that if you applied REA or ED I and were denied admission in mid-December, you have the opportunity to commit to your second-choice school in your Jan 1(-ish) ED II application. The same ED I logic applies but hopefully with a smaller list because your ED and EA schools notified you in December.  

Last bit of advice: don’t try to game it. Let the process work, and prioritize the fit of the college for you over any kind of deadline. If you have a clear #1 choice, go for it; don’t settle for 2nd best simply because they have certain deadlines.