Early Action, Early Decision and Regular Decision - What's the Difference?

Updated: Jan 27



The three main decision types, early action (EA), early decision (ED) and regular decision (RD), determine your application deadlines, when you recieve your application results and whether you are binded to attend a certain college. In this article we will cover the differences between each decision type to help you decide which is the best for you.



Early Decision (ED):


The school reviews applications from the ED pool early and so students who apply ED also receive an early response from the college. You can only apply to one college via early decision and this application is binding; if you are accepted to the college you are contractually obligated to enroll there. For example:


If you apply early decision and are admitted to Cornell University in December and then in March find out you have also been accepted to Yale through regular decision - you will not be allowed to attend Yale if you wanted to and will have to enrol at Cornell regardless.

When you apply through early decision and a college accepts you, you cannot break your contract. If you try to back out because you’ve changed your mind, most colleges will charge you a hefty fine, which can be as much as a full year’s tuition. The only way one can get out of this contract is if the college does not offer you enough financial aid and you cannot afford to attend that college.


Early Decision is a great option for applicants who have their heart set on one particular college. However, if a college is not first on your list or if you have any hesitation whatsoever, it is not advisable to apply via early decision.


The most common deadlines for early decision are November 1 and November 15 - be sure to double check via the college's official website. These deadlines are not flexible.

Admissions decisions for ED are released mid-December and those who apply ED will either be accepted, rejected or deferred.


click here to read more about 'deferral'


Early Action (EA)


Early action allows students to apply early but it is not binding. The school reviews applications from the EA pool early and so students who apply EA also receive an early response from the college. You may apply to multiple colleges under early application and you are not obliged to attend any one particular college.


You can apply to multiple colleges and choose from those that have accepted you. You do not have to pay any deposit while sending in your application - you pay deposits at the same time as the regular decision applicants (if applicable).


The most common deadlines for early decision are November 1 and November 15 - be sure to double check via the college's official website.

Admissions decisions for EA are released mid-December and those who apply EA will either be accepted, rejected or deferred.


Regular Decision (RD)


There is no limit to the number of schools you can apply to via regular decision. If multiple colleges accepts you, you can choose which one you want to go to; You are under no obligation to enroll in any one particular college.


The most common deadlines for regular decision are around the beginning of January - be sure to double check via the college's official website. Admissions decisions for RD are released from March to April and those who apply RD will either be accepted, rejected or waitlisted.


click here to read more about being 'waitlisted'





Should I apply Early or Regular?


With the exception of early decision, your choice of decision type has little to no impact on the actual outcome of your application. There is a slight statistical advantage to applying early but this is often due to a stronger applicant pool.


Applying early is a good way to put your mind at ease at an earlier on, however, there are some things you should considering before opting for that decision type:

  • Are you happy with your application and essays?

  • Are you happy with your current test scores?

  • If the early action programme is binding, are you 100% sure that it is your first choice?

Applying early action to match schools can save you money as you are more likely to get into one early and then save on application fees as you dont need to apply to as many safety schools.


click here to read more about being 'safety, match and reach schools'



Some Colleges and their Early Application Programmes (as of Date Written)


Early Action:

  • Harvard

  • Princeton

  • Yale

  • MIT

  • Caltech

  • Stanford

Early Decision:

  • Columbia

  • Cornell

  • Dartmouth

  • Brown

  • University of Pennsylvania

  • NYU

  • University of Chicago