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Admission plans and strategies: Early Decision, Early Action & Regular Decision

In the ninth of her 12-part series, Katherine Ernst Mehta discusses various admission plans for undergraduate students so that they can better plan their admissions process.
BY Katherine Ernst Mehta |   04-11-2016

Understanding the different types of admission plans and how they affect the admissions process can help you better plan your college application strategy.  Each school offers a different combination of admissions plans and deadlines, so it’s worth investigating each school’s website, and familiarizing yourself with their admissions plans.

As a brief overview, the different types of admissions plans are:

Early Decision (ED): a binding early application process where you apply to only one school.  The deadline is typically November 1st, and if you are admitted, you are obliged to attend.  Applying early decision can offer a competitive advantage, as acceptance rates tend to be higher in early decision rounds (vs. regular decision rounds). It also means that you will have your decision by early to mid-December, as opposed to having to wait until March/April.  Some, but not all, schools offer multiple Early Decision rounds (ED I and ED II). Your ED application will be accepted, denied, or deferred.  If it’s denied you cannot reapply.  If it’s deferred, that means your application is moved to the regular decision round for re-evaluation with the rest of the applicant pool.

Early Action (EA): an early application process that, unlike ED, is not binding.  Though it doesn’t offer as much of an admissions advantage, EA does give you an earlier admissions decision (December, as opposed to March/April).  Typically, you can apply to multiple schools, unless the school indicates that it has a Restrictive Early Action policy, in which case you can only apply to that school under its Early Admission plan.  As in ED, your application will be accepted, denied, or deferred.  If you are admitted, however, you are not required to attend.

Regular Decision: a non-binding application process in which you can apply to an unlimited number of schools.  Applications are usually due around January 1st, and you receive admissions notifications in March/April.  From the regular decision round, your application can be either accepted, denied, or waitlisted. If you accept a spot on the waitlist, you may still receive an offer of admission if enough seats remain open after the school has heard back from all of their accepted students.

Rolling Admissions: an admissions process where the application window remains open until all spots in the freshmen class are full.  Many state universities employ this process.  With more competitive schools, it is to your advantage to get your application in sooner, to increase the likelihood of admission.

Knowing and creating a strategy based on your university’s admission plans can help reduce stress during the application season, and improve your chances of securing a spot at your top schools.


Katherine Ernst Mehta is CEO and Founder of Edvanta Consulting, which works with international high-school students seeking admission to US universities. She first came from the US to India for research, and now lives in Delhi. You can reach her on Twitter at @EdvantaCo. Previous instalments of her 12-part series on US college admissions are here.


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For more information on the pros and cons of Early Action and Early Decision, click here.


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