“Early Action,” “Early Decision” and “Regular Decision.” These are all terms that may feel foreign to the class of seniors and juniors, but they can easily be understood, and knowing them will help immensely in the college application process.
The three terms correspond to the types of application windows that all colleges and universities have available (with a few exceptions). Here is a simple breakdown of each term, and where it could prove useful in your application journey.
Early Decision (ED) is the first window that opens, and also the first time that schools begin looking at applications. The ED deadline is in November, and you will hear back from schools in December. These are primarily for applicants that have top choices or dream schools. If there is a certain university that you know you want to apply to, then ED is the way to go.
Applying ED gives you a leg up on other candidates because it tells a school that you are serious about going there. Colleges and universities tend to admit a decent amount of their incoming freshmen through Early Decision, an added bonus that boosts your chances of acceptance. The fact that ED is the first decision that comes back gives students some closure in their college decision process.
If you apply ED to a school and are accepted, then it’s a full stop from there. It’s a binding decision, which means you’re officially committed and cannot accept an offer from any other school. This may deter students who want to apply to more than one university, but it is an ideal option for those who only have one school in mind.
Early Action (EA) is another window that has a November deadline, with decisions usually coming back around December or January. This window should be used for colleges and universities that are near the top of your list, but are not necessarily your “dream school.”
Early Action, unlike Early Decision, is non-binding, which means that you do not have to accept the school’s admission offer. You can still wait on other decisions and make the choice later on, but before the May 1 deadline. However, there is an equal benefit to applying EA as opposed to ED or Regular Decision (which will be explained shortly). It’s another leg up on students who wait until the winter to apply, and equally shows how interested you are in attending a particular school.
Regular Decision (RD) is the most common application window and should be used for every other school on your list. This may seem like the most disadvantageous one, given that you will be competing with everyone else for a select few spots; however, this is where you can make your application stand out.
RD applications are typically due around January or February, and students receive notifications a couple of months later — either on or before April 1. It’s the last hurdle to be jumped in the college admissions process, but the results will be worth it.
Balancing the activities of senior year with applying to colleges can be stressful, but by understanding each of the application windows, you can be confident you know what to do when the time comes to apply.