Key to understanding The Application Process and setting Deadlines & Timelines is understanding Application Plans. Colleges generally offer one to five Application Plans. By Application Plan, I mean a way of applying to their College, in terms of timing and the related terms. With the exception of Colleges that offer a Rolling Admission Application Plan, generally a College will offer a Regular Decision Application Plan and some sort of early Application Plan: Early Action, Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action.

Restrictive Early Action (REA), sometime referred to as Single-Choice Early Action is a variation between Early Decision and Early Action. While College policy’s may vary, in general, if you apply to a REA College, you may not apply early to any other private College. By early, that means you may not apply Early Decision or Early Action to any private Colleges while you apply to a REA College (sometimes exceptions are made for Early Action 2 or Early Decision 2, or for submitting an application early, in order to be considered for scholarships). However, if you are accepted into a REA College, that acceptance is not binding. Generally students don’t need to commit until 5/1 to a REA College.

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The terms of Application Plans include 1) when you apply 2) when you are accepted or denied 3) when you must commit to attend that College and 4) under what terms you can apply to other Colleges at the same time.

REA is an application plan often offered by selective Colleges. Stanford, Harvard and Yale offer REA, for example. 

To determine which application plans are offered at a particular College, type <school name> undergraduate admissions deadlines in your search engine.   Some Colleges allow students to apply to non-binding Rolling Admission plans while applying REA.

Check out The Application Process and Deadlines & Timelines to be prepare to apply REA.

REA students tend to have strong academic profiles. They are not waiting for their first semester senior grades to bring up their GPA, nor are they waiting to take the ACT and/or SAT again, hoping to raise their score. An exception might be students who are trying to increase their chances of gaining acceptance into a reach school by applying REA, since REA admission rates are much higher than Regular Decision rates.


  • While not binding, REA students have chosen to apply to one College early, thereby losing the benefits (particularly higher admission rates) attributed to early application plans at other Colleges they are interested in. These students are clearly highly interested in that College: they are both enthusiastic and likely a good fit.
  • REA students tend to be organized, motivated, highly qualified students


  • Critics state that Early Decision highly favors wealthy students, who can afford to commit to a school regardless of financial or merit aid. This practice can reflect poorly on Colleges who profess a holistic approach to admissions and might hurt their fund-raising efforts. Because REA is non-binding, Colleges are likely accepting a more diverse group of students (students who rely on financial aid don’t have to commit to a REA school regardless of the amount of financial aid, as in Early Decision). This diversity should create a better experience for all students, as well as reflect well on that College as an institution. The downside is that they are likely accepting more students with financial need, depleting their resources. Many people would say that is exactly what they should do. I believe that highly selective Colleges like the Ivies can afford to offer REA, not only because a non-binding application won’t result in a lower yield because these Colleges are so highly sought after, but also because they have large resources available to fund the likely higher financial needs of their REA applicants. Furthermore, if they don’t obtain their desired yield or have exhausted that year’s financial aid resources from REA applicants, there will be a large number of highly qualified Regular Decision applicants who would love to attend that Ivy, many of whom don’t require financial aid.


  • Colleges generally have a higher (sometimes much higher) acceptance rate for REA applicants. While many argue higher acceptance rates is because REA students are generally higher qualified, there are other reasons a college accepts more REA applicants. If you are reaching for a College, they may be more likely to accept you as an REA applicant.
  • Colleges have a finite treasure chest for financial and merit aid. If a large number of eligible College students in the REA pool qualify for aid, there may be that much less aid available for the Regular Decision applicants.
  • It’s just nice to know you have been accepted into a College early in the process. Because REA Colleges tend to be highly desirable Colleges, you may decide you are done applying to any more Colleges, even though REA is non-binding.


Applying Early Can be a Good Thing... Unless it's Not

Applying Early Can be a Good Thing… Unless it’s Not

  • It is difficult to complete your application essay, Letters of Recommendation, etc. and to have accumulated your best possible test score and GPA early in your Senior year.
  • It is difficult to have a complete understanding of all your College options so that you are equipped to make a decision to apply REA with certainty that this school is the best fit: remember, while non-binding, applying REA means you have lost the advantages that early applications plans afford for any other Colleges you are considering.
  • Some Colleges will defer REA applicants who are not accepted into the Regular Decision pool and some choose to deny all admission to REA applicants who are not accepted.  If your first choice College does not defer REA applicants to the regular pool, you take the chance you won’t be one of the highly competitive REA applicants who is admitted.
Does money motivate you?

When you apply can have a direct impact on how much aid you will receive.

Understanding a College’s policy regarding deferring REA applicants as well as the likelihood of financial and/or merit aid are important considerations that should be discussed with the College’s Admission Officer. It is also important to research and discuss admission rates for the different application plans at that College.

There are many articles regarding application plans.  College Board (who operates the SAT) has an article discussing the facts about applying early and another regarding the benefits of applying early.

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