Episode 52: ED, EA, REA, WL, Deferrals

Episode 52: ED, EA, REA, WL, Deferrals

Date of Publication/发布日期
November 5, 2021
Curtis Westbay
Files & media
Volume 2 2021-2022
There are so many acronyms that get used to describe the different ways for students to apply to college: ED, EA, REA, WL, RD... what do they all mean?

This week, 48 BIPH students sent 234 college applications under a few conditions: Early Decision, Restrictive Early Action, Early Action, and rolling. In this post, I will describe, simply, what each type of application is and the advantages of each.

Regular Decision

This is the most common type of college application. A Regular Decision application is typically submitted on or around January 1, but the deadline for Regular Decision applications is decided by colleges. For example, the University of California schools have a different deadline for Regular Decision applications: November 30. Some schools give a few days for students to submit into the new year (presumably, so they can celebrate the holiday without the stress of college applications), like NYU (January 5), Northwestern (January 3), and Duke (January 4). Ideally, students will submit all of their applications well in advance of the official deadline date.


A college with a rolling deadline will not really have an official deadline— "rolling" means applications will continue to be considered by the college until they are satisfied with the makeup of their incoming class. Rolling admission is essentially first-come, first-considered. When applications come in, colleges consider them quickly, not waiting for a formal deadline at which to give all applicants equal consideration. Colleges with Rolling admission tend to be large, public universities with large incoming classes to fill. Strategically, students should submit Rolling applications as early as possible, but not before their application is sufficiently finalized. The strategic advantage of applying early to a Rolling admission school can be offset by submission of a hasty application.

Early Action

The only distinction between a Regular Decision application and an Early Action application is the timeline: Early Action applications are typically due on November 1 (we just finished this deadline). Otherwise, there isn't much of a difference. This is a firm deadline and applying Early Action gives students some early results. Many colleges notify students whether or not they have been admitted as early as mid-December. Contrast this with Regular Decision applications. Students are sometimes not notified of Regular Decision outcomes until April or May. While there is no limit on how many Early Action schools a student can apply to, the practical constraint is the earlier deadline. Early Action applicant pools do tend to be more competitive (who would have thought that more punctual students are usually stronger students?), and they often have a higher acceptance rate than Regular Decision pools.

Restrictive Early Action

Students who apply to a college Regular Decision or Early Action are not required to attend if they are accepted. They can be accepted, rejected, deferred, or waitlisted (I will explain the terms later). The most uncommon type of application is Restrictive Early Action. Under this arrangement, students have a single-choice Early Action school (a synonym for Restrictive Early Action). With an REA school, students agree to not apply under any sort of Early Action or Early Decision condition to any other private university (they may still apply to public universities under an Early Action plan).

Why? It's all about anticipating yield for these highly-rejective colleges. To do so, they consider a factor called demonstrated interest. If a school allows students to apply REA, they are essentially getting confirmation from the students who do so that their school is their first choice— the only school the student is applying to in the early round that is a private institution. If you look at the US News rankings, the top 20 schools are all private universities. Applying to one of those schools as a Restrictive Early Action choice implies that none of the other schools will receive an application from you until you've already been notified of your admission outcome to the REA school.

Early Decision

An Early Decision application is the greatest demonstration of interest a student can offer. Applying Early Decision is a contract— if you're accepted, you must attend. As such, students can only apply to one school under an Early Decision arrangement. As colleges try to keep acceptance rates low and yield rates high, Early Decision applicants represent a sure thing— a rare, sure thing— in the composition of an incoming class.

While students can apply to other schools in the early round alongside an ED application, if accepted, they are required to withdraw all outstanding applications for other schools, whether or not they have received a response. Students may not keep applications to other schools open if they are accepted through an Early Decision arrangement, even though they may be curious about their chances. Doing so will certainly draw the ire of colleges and risks the reputation of our school with colleges.

What are the possible outcomes from an application?


You are welcome to enroll at a university!


Your application is closed and the school has decided not to admit you.


You've applied in the early round (either ED, EA, or REA) and your application is neither accepted nor rejected, but the school will consider it again in the Regular Decision round.


You're not accepted, nor are you rejected (yet). Colleges have huge waitlists and will admit students from the waitlist as they receive notifications from accepted students that they don't plan to attend. Though uncommon, students do occasionally get accepted off the waitlist.