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Wednesday, November 1, 2023

EA, ED, RD, Rolling - Breaking Open the Admissions Options

 by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS

Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Applying to college seems pretty straightforward, at least from the outside. However, with various application options, testing options, recommendation options, and admissions options, there is a lot to sort out before you even begin.

N.B. Before I begin to describe these admissions options, please take note that some colleges have scholarship consideration or priority deadlines. 

Admissions Options - EA

Early Action is offered by hundreds of colleges. This application option has an early deadline so requires planning ahead. Testing needs to be done early, recommendations need to be gathered, and essays polished well in advance of the November 1 deadline (Check your prospective colleges to verify their deadline(s)!) Some schools even offer EA1 and EA2 - two rounds of early action.

Why apply EA? To show your serious interest in a college, to show your ability to be organized and get work done well in a timely fashion. Because you want to know that you are accepted before Christmas. To get the whole college application process over and done with. In order to take advantage of higher acceptance rates.

Why not apply EA? Because you've had some academic struggles during high school and want to show your wonderful fall senior grades to prospective colleges. Because you want to get your test scores higher to improve your chances at acceptance. Because your summer was full of incredible activities and preparing strong applications and essays just wasn't possible. Because you got started on the whole deciding you want to go to college, then making a college list, figuring out possible majors, and applying in August and need more time. Because you are involved in time intensive activities fall semester and didn't get your essays written over the summer so you can't create great applications in this time frame.

Admissions Options - ED

Early Decision is similar to early action. Some colleges offer this application option. Like EA, ED deadlines early and some colleges offer two rounds of it. ED differs in a very significant way, however. First, a student can only apply to one college using ED.  In that application, applicants and their parents agree to pull all other applications and attend this college if they are accepted.  Colleges love this application option because they know that the students they accept will be attending their college. In fact, the colleges with ED programs tend to fill 1/3 to 1/2 (or more!) of their incoming class from the ED pool.

Why apply ED? The acceptance rate is MUCH higher than the subsequent RD round. Apply ED if you are a legacy student, recruited athlete (or debater, musician, etc.), etc. For non-recruited or special category applicants, the acceptance rate is hard to determine. Because some portion of this applicant pool is accepted at a very high rate, the rate of acceptance for other students is impossible to determine. Apply ED if you are COMPLETELY sure that this one college is THE college for you AND you have the grades, scores, accomplishments, recommendations, and top quality essays ready in time.

Why not apply ED? Because this application is binding, do NOT apply ED if you are not 100% sure you will thrive at the selected college. There is fine print which will allow a student to get out of an ED commitment for financial reasons, but this path is rarely taken. Do NOT apply ED if you cannot afford to attend the college. Most colleges with ED options will require the CSS PROFILE form to also be submitted by the ED deadline. The PROFILE form is what these colleges have chosen to use to determine how they will allocate their institutional aid funds. ED colleges typically provide a preliminary financial aid package to accepted students. Additionally, if you need more time to re-take the SAT or ACT or want your fall semester grades to be considered, ED is not your best option. If you are applying without the help of a college consultant like myself, know that nearly all ED applicants are working with someone so you are at a disadvantage. They typically use tutors for test prep, too.

Admissions Options - RD

RD stands for regular decision. Most applicants choose RD. RD deadlines range from 12/1 to 6/1. While there is additional time to apply, deadlines must still be met and applications must be complete.

Why apply RD? Apply RD in order to include senior fall grades and test scores, to have more time to gather recommendations and to write and polish application essay(s). 

Why not apply RD? If you want to take advantage of higher acceptance rates and get the application process finished so you can enjoy the rest of your senior year, don't wait for RD deadlines. Please note that students can apply RD even before the EA or ED deadlines. RD applicants won't receive their decisions as quickly, but they will still receive them. (Every school has its own policy on when and how admissions decisions are made and communicated.)

Admissions Options - Rolling

Rolling Decision deadlines tend to be very late, often 7/1 or 8/1 or even the day before Fall semester classes begin. Don't be fooled, waiting that long will make getting in more difficult; as the admissions season progresses, fewer and fewer seats in the freshman class are available.

Why apply Rolling? If all else falls through, or "life happens" and you are only able to get your applications pulled together in late Spring of Senior year, then rolling decision schools will be a good choice for you.

Why not apply Rolling? Because you want to show colleges that you are prepared well ahead of time, are a strong prospective student for them, that you are serious about going to college, etc. (Not that students who apply late are not those things...)

Having options is a good thing. Understanding them and making well informed decisions and plans to use the options before you advantageously is very helpful as one seeks to accomplish one's goals in life. The prudent use of coaches, mentors, guides, etc. to help you select the majors, programs, and schools that are best suited to your learning style and personal and professional goals, as well to help you craft the best possible application possible is key. Email me at to request an initial consultation if you are an 8th - 11th grade student (or the parent of one) and you'd like to discuss your situation and the options for assistance as you move forward.

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