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Understanding the Lingo: EA, ED, REA, RD

Posted by Steffon Gales, Associate Director of College Counseling on Sep 24, 2021 2:06:00 PM

Ever wondered what all the acronyms in the college application process stand for? We're here to help. 

Each college has their own unique campus, supplemental essays, and core values. However, all colleges are united in their enthusiasm for acronyms. The day I was finally able to keep up with the college admissions vocabulary was the day I started working in the profession. This was many years after I started the college application process because my mom brought me to more college fairs than I can count. I don’t want you to feel pressured to embark on a crusade to be the next admissions counselor extraordinaire (unless you want to), but my job is to make the college application process as transparent as it can be. So, I’ll clarify for you some admissions lingo.

Early Action (EA)

  • What is it?: Indicates an earlier application deadline, which is non-binding. Students who apply EA typically learn about their admission decision sometime between mid-December and the end of January, but they have until May 1 to decide where they want to enroll.
  • Notes from a Counselor: Submitting several EA applications can be to your benefit. By applying to a select number of schools EA, you increase your chances of gaining admission before the RD season. The EA schools you decide to apply to should be done in close coordination with your college counselor. Strategically, this method helps to ensure that you hear back from at least one school before the end of the calendar year. And who wouldn’t want a holiday gift in the form of a college acceptance letter?
  • Deadline: Mid-October through early December

Early Decision (ED)

  • What is it?: Indicates a binding early application plan, particularly if it is your 1st choice school. This may follow a similar application deadline as EA, and results in a student learning of their admission decision 4-6 weeks after submitting their application.
  • Notes from a Counselor: An important note here is that if applying ED there will be an agreement. This agreement is a required part of your application and ensures your understanding of the ED process. We suggest ED schools must be visited before applying, whenever possible. If a student is admitted in ED, they are bound to attend the college, must promptly withdraw the applications submitted to other colleges and universities, and make no additional applications to any other university in any country. So, please be careful and note which school on your list is ED (binding). You want to make sure you are sending the strongest application possible. Yet, an ED application is not a requirement. Always work in coordination with your college counselor.
  • Deadline: Mid-October through early December


Restricted Early Action (REA)

  • What is it?: Used by a handful of colleges, this application is an alternative for students who would like to apply and hear back early. However, there are added restrictions. Please see Notes from a Counselor for more information. The typical admissions response for REA is mid-December.
  • Note from a Counselor: This process is commonly offered by highly selective colleges for non-binding early applications. Some may use a similar term “Single Choice”. Students are not obligated to attend these institutions, if accepted. However, each institution emphasizes qualifications and restrictions for those choosing to apply REA on their websites. So, be sure you understand what you are signing up for. Again, work with your college counselor for support.
  • Deadline: Early November

Regular Decision (RD)

  • What is it?: Regular decision is an option for students after they’ve submitted EA, ED, and REA deadline applications.
  • Notes from a Counselor: This application process is commonly used for students who need more time to cultivate their application; have been deferred, waitlisted, or denied from their ED/EA schools; or who choose to apply to schools on their list that either didn’t feel like priority spots for an early reply/binding commitment; or the student is applying RD because that’s the best choice for them.
  • Deadline: Early January through February


Bonus! Rolling Admission (RA)

  • What is it?: I wouldn’t be doing you justice if I neglected to mention rolling admission. This process is ongoing. Colleges respond to applications within a greater period. This timeframe can happen over the entire year until a class fills or it can be an extended deadline for students who would like to continue exploring their options for enrollment. Though the process is ongoing for many months, decisions are “rolled” on a daily/ weekly basis throughout the admissions cycle.
  • Notes from a Counselor: A good example of the rolling admission process would be when choosing to send an application to Arizona State University (ASU), for example. The ASU admissions office uses rolling admission to assist students who need more opportunities to apply for financial aid, to support transfer students, or to resolve myriad other reasons due to their circumstances. The only requirement is for students to apply before the chosen term begins.
  • Deadline: Rolling admissions is an ongoing process that can last six months or longer. However, some schools will have “priority deadlines”, like Penn State which has a priority deadline of November 30. Priority deadlines for RA are ideal periods when a student would be set up to attend college during the fall.


So, regardless of your ideal college match, please work with your college counselor to consider these application deadlines and which options work best for you. This is a great opportunity to exercise your autonomy in the college application process, and choose which admission round works best for you. Whether it is EA, ED, REA or RD, use this post as a resource for understanding the college admissions lingo.





Topics: College Counseling