Don’t Let College Admissions Deadlines Turn You into a Stressed-Out Zombie! Understand ED, EA, RD, and RA Before Your Senior Year

Halloween is the turning point where the low simmer of college admissions for high school seniors turns into a full-blown boil. Students applying to Florida schools are scrambling to meet the early November 1 deadlines at most public Florida universities, and students who have their eyes on the other coast are preparing for the California public university system’s November 30 deadlines. However, these are not the only November deadlines that seniors applying to college need to pay attention to. There is a whole series of acronyms that need to be unraveled so that you can plan for a successful and less stressful admissions cycle. We are here to help you get to the bottom of these important terms – ED, EA, RD, and RA. Here we go!

ED – Early Decision

If you see stress all over the faces of high school seniors right now, it is probably because they are sorting through the colleges on their lists to finalize if they want to apply Early Decision and where they want to do it. Early Decision deadlines are typically either November 1 or November 15 – for ED I. We will get to ED II in just a minute. Savvy sophomore and junior high school students should be paying attention to this to help plan for their own admissions work.

Early Decision is the opportunity to apply early to a college and receive a decision from the college much earlier than students who apply at the regular decision deadlines – usually you will get an answer from your school in December. Sounds great right? You apply, you find out, and you are – hopefully – done. Wait just a minute, there are lots of strings attached!

First, ED is binding. This means that if you apply ED to a school, you will sign a contract with your application stating that you will accept the offer, pay your deposit, and attend there. Not only do you sign the contract, but your counselor and your parents will as well.

Another important consideration for ED applications is that you will not have the luxury of comparing financial aid packages across many schools.

You also need to think about where you are in the process to consider if you will be ready with the strongest application possible by these early ED deadlines. You will need to have SAT or ACT scores that get you on the high end of the middle 50% range at the school of your choice preferably by the end of your junior year or at the very beginning of your senior year. Remember that it takes about 3-4 weeks to have your scores returned, so you will need to complete testing by September of your senior year to have your scores and determine if you are in range to apply. In addition to test scores, you will need a strong draft of your essay ready to roll. Some students need more time and later deadlines to ensure they have the strongest application possible.

Early Decision II has the same strings attached as ED I, but with a later deadline – usually sometime in January with notification of acceptance in February. This is a good alternative for students who need a little extra time to pull together a strong application and are fine with all the restraints of ED.

The bottom line – applying ED should be carefully considered. Only students who know they want one certain school and don’t want to compare offers across several schools should use this method.

EA – Early Action

Early Action has all the benefits of ED – you apply early and get a response early, but without the strings attached. Some schools require that if you apply EA to their school, that you do not apply to other schools EA, so know the rules for the schools where you are applying. However, the EA offer is not binding, so you can still apply to other schools through their regular decision deadlines.

If you have all the components of your application ready to go and can submit the very strongest application you are capable of, then EA is a good choice for you and can increase your chances at acceptance at your top-choice school since some schools fill up to 50% of their freshman seats through early decision or early action.

RD – Regular Decision

In most cases (notable exceptions are the California and Florida public universities), the Regular Decision deadlines are at the earliest in December and can stretch to February. These are the deadlines that most seniors are trying to reach. The benefits of applying RD are that you are not limited to applying to a single school, you will hopefully have several acceptance and financial aid packages to compare and consider in April, and you have a little extra time to finish up your application.

RA – Rolling Admissions

Some schools begin accepting applications in the fall and continue accepting them through the late spring. This is called Rolling Admissions or RA. They typically offer a fairly quick turn around on decisions (most in under a month) and sometimes have a priority deadline that you must meet to be considered for their best financial aid packages. Rolling admissions is a great choice for students who need to add another college or two to their lists late in the cycle. If a school on your list has rolling admissions, you should make every effort to apply early in the cycle to increase your chances of admission and the size of your financial aid package.

What All of This Means to You

To avoid looking like a stressed-out zombie in October of your senior year (and not the fun, Halloween type of zombie), start early on your application, particularly if you know you will want to apply ED or EA at a school. You should aim to have a strong college list organized by the end of your junior year. Additionally, you should try to have your standardized test scores you where want them by the summer after your junior year. Also, you should begin writing your personal statement as soon as school is over after your junior year with the goal of having a strong draft ready to go by August before you begin your senior year. Your goal should be to spread the work out so that you are not buried in schoolwork and college applications in the fall of your senior year and to position yourself so that you have as many options open to you as possible during your application cycle. Prevent the invasion of stress-zombies by understanding what the different college application deadlines mean and by doing a lot of the preparation for college applications early!

Avoid the zombie look!