Understanding college admission options

By Suzanne Shaffer

EA, ED, ED II, regular admission, and rolling admission — these are the options your student will consider when applying to college.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Years ago, everyone applied at the same time. But with larger applicant pools and more competition among (and for) applicants, colleges have expanded the application options in order to better manage the process and hopefully increase their yield of high-quality candidates.

When my daughter applied to college, she opted for regular admissions. When my son applied, he applied using rolling admissions. In order to make the right choice, it’s important to understand each and why your student would choose one over the other.

EA (Early Action)

Colleges offer this option promising a quick response to applicants who submit on or prior to their early deadline (typically November 1st or 15th). EA is non-binding — your student does not have to promise to attend, he just hears back sooner. In addition, he can apply to multiple colleges as an EA candidate. The obvious benefits of applying EA are a quicker admissions decision, and being a part of a smaller applicant pool. The downside is that, although the applicant pool is smaller, the applicants may be strong candidates.

Some universities offer a second EA option: Restricted Early Action. It works much like Early Action, but students are limited in the number of EA applications they can submit to other schools — it may be one or even zero. Colleges do this because they are looking for students who are committed to them instead of just applying early to find out sooner.

The value of Early Action — for colleges and applicants — is coming under increased scrutiny. Does it put pressure on high school seniors to apply early when they still don’t know what they want? Because it’s non-binding, does it result in piles of applications from students unlikely to accept an admission offer? Here’s an update on universities that have dropped the EA option, along with opinions from schools that don’t expect to discontinue EA any time soon.

ED (Early Decision)

ED applications are serious business. Your student should only apply ED to a college if he is absolutely certain this is the college he wants to attend. Once your student is accepted ED he is required to attend that college and withdraw all other applications.

In some cases, colleges also offer ED II, which allows students extra time to apply. This can be useful when students still need to do research, gather portfolio work, or haven’t completely decided on the ED choice. The ED II application deadline is the same as the regular deadline, but a decision is sent sooner, usually in early February.

story-icon-bar-convo-3An EA or ED verdict can be a helpful reality check. If your student is accepted or deferred, he is on the right track. A rejection on the other hand may indicate that he should focus on schools with less selective admissions criteria.

The advantages of applying ED are clear. For a student who knows which college he wants to attend, ED gives him the opportunity to focus all his energy on that one application.

Additionally, a student who applies ED learns about the college’s decision in mid-December (usually), and if he’s offered admission, he can enjoy the rest of senior year with his college choice settled. If he is deferred or rejected, he has time to regroup and apply to other colleges.

ED also gives a student a slight edge if, and only if, he is highly qualified for that school (credentials equal to or better than the requirements). Being at the head of the line, so to speak, can work to his advantage. During the ED review, each admissions staff member is reviewing a smaller pile of folders.

I do not advise a student who may need significant need-based financial aid to apply ED. It doesn’t allow him the opportunity to compare multiple financial aid offers, which often differ substantially, especially once possible merit-based aid is factored in. Although my daughter had a clear favorite when she was applying, we knew we would need significant aid so she applied regular decision to compare financial aid award offers. We were glad she did because her first choice college changed and she would have been locked in to attend with little financial aid if she applied ED.

Regular Admissions

The regular admissions deadline is later than EA and ED — typically January 1st, January 15th or February 1st. This is when the majority of students will submit their applications.

Regular decision gives your student more time to reflect on his goals, narrow his “good fit” list of colleges, and prepare a top-notch application. There are no restrictions (besides those imposed by common sense and the cost of applying!) on the number of regular decision applications he can submit. This option also gives your student the luxury of comparing financial aid awards, evaluating all offers of admission, and choosing the college that is a perfect fit and meets his financial need.

Rolling Admissions

Colleges with rolling admissions offer important options and opportunities that regular deadlines do not. Rolling admissions colleges will accept and examine applications as they are sent in, instead of waiting to judge all applications at the same time. This admissions option can be great for late admissions, or for finding out early whether or not your student is accepted.

Every student’s college search journey unfolds differently. Understanding the various admissions options will help you support your student as he decides where, when and how to apply.

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