The Strategy Behind Application Deadlines—Explained

Many children enjoy a steady diet of alphabet soup growing up. By now, maybe many of you have navigated the SAT and ACT acronym maze, but get ready for the all-important application deadline soup of EA, SCEA, REA, ED I, EDII, (and occasionally the semi-secret ED III), RD and RA.

After finishing a package of application materials and narrowing your final list of target colleges, you absolutely need a solid application strategy. From factoring in size and location to entry competitiveness and how a college would place you where you want to be in four years, establish a set of priorities and review each university’s rules of admission deadlines and requirements. That acronym soup offering is different at each school, requires different levels of planning commitment and can affect financial assistance packages that are offered.

Here are the choices, keeping in mind you must explore each college’s options readily available on the school website.

Early Action (EA)

EA application deadlines generally fall around Nov. 1 and Nov.15. These universities release acceptance decisions as early as December but allow the EA student to wait until May 1 to commit, allowing time to examine any financial assistance offered by other accepting schools. Recent trends show many universities are pushing their exclusivity and lower acceptance rates for ranking purposes; the effect is the cream of the applicant crop is taking significantly more spots from RD or RA applicants. As the EA numbers have grown, be aware a university can choose to defer its admission decision. Be sure if you fall into their deferral category, to have a few other schools lined up.

Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restricted Early Action (REA)

SCEA is more restrictive than EA. For example, there are often restrictions on applying to other public or private colleges prior to hearing back from the SCEA school. Again, H.S. senior applications must apply quite early in the process. After an SCEA school makes a December decision of acceptance, deferral, or denial, the student is free to apply to other schools before a final commitment on May 1. But the specific rules vary. For example, a student applying REA to Notre Dame may apply to other college Early Action programs, unlike Stanford, where any sort of non-binding commitment to another private school is forbidden. Again, the pool of SCEA and REA applicants is top tier so make certain your application package of grades, tests, extracurriculars and the all-important essay(s) are the best possible.

Early Decision I (ED I)

Do you know exactly where you want to attend after extensive research and (hopefully) a few campus visits? Can’t even imagine what your second choice is? Are willing to accept a financial package sight unseen? Want to avoid being caught in the Regular Admission stampede? And want to boost your chances to attend your Dream School? Another early deadline process, Early Decision is binding, meaning any other applications must be withdrawn when the good news arrives.

If you have your heart set on Cornell, recent numbers show ED more than doubles the chance of success from around 14% for regular to almost 33% via ED. Do you feel colleges like the University of Iowa are a bit too large? Applying Early Decision to Kenyon jumps the acceptance rate over regular from around 38% to more than 53%.

As much as you may have settled on your top choice, there is an important thing to consider. Because this and other early applications do not yet include senior’s first semester grades, it is absolutely crucial to have superior grades and test score goals. Need more time to prepare, there is another possibility….

Early Decision II (ED II)

A surprising number of universities offer two rounds, ED I and ED II. ED II deadlines are usually closer to the Regular Decision deadline, generally falling between Jan. 1 and Feb.1. ED II would allow you to include first semester senior grades, and for those deferred or rejected as ED I, a new opportunity for that next fit school.

Also binding, ED II is essential for the college to determine its freshman class Yield. What’s that? Because ED I and ED II students are committed to attend if accepted, the college can more easily determine the percentage of accepted students who enroll. A critical statistic in a college algorithm, the Yield can offer a college an early snapshot of the incoming freshman class, helping to determine an array of effects, from enhancing the U.S. News & World Report college scores to tilting toward specific likely RA majors to dorm room space to hiring more lecturers and one-year professorships and foodservice offerings.

Regular Decision (RD)

RD has a rather large window for all sides with applications arriving anywhere from Nov. 30 to March 15 with a yea, nay or deferral coming around April 1. For students less certain of which college or what major, this is a great choice since they can apply to as many universities as they (or parents) seem reasonable. RD is an option for students who need more time to reach their goal test scores, enhance their extracurriculars or move on from an ED rejection/referral.

Rolling Admission (RA)

Let’s say you want to test the water early and are hopeful for a few acceptances in your email in-box. Rolling Admissions offers that. The completed application file is reviewed within a few weeks.

Some students feel an enormous weight has been lifted knowing RA schools have extended an invitation. Slow start, early senior grades, missed early deadlines and a host of other reasons make this an attractive choice for many. Just remember that a number of attractive schools are receiving vast numbers of RD and RA applications, so it’s a good idea to have your essays and applications reviewed by Valle Educational Consultants to help stand out from the masses.

Once the college has received all applications, they are reviewed by admissions staff and any other involved college entities to extend invitations to the final batch after the deadline cutoff. Make sure that if you are placed on the Wait List or are deferred that you know what appropriate next steps to take with the college.

So, what’s this alphabet soup mean? Every family is a little bit different. But knowledge is power, and it’s worth the research to weigh options beyond Rolling Admission (which works fine for many). If you are confused or concerned about making the most informed decision based on your situation, contact Valle Educational Consultants. Whether you are considering a top-tier school as a butterfly swimmer or lacrosse defender or obsess over plate tectonics or performance stage lighting and sound, there are some worthwhile candidate pool options to understand before diving into the deep end.

–MIKE RYAN