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What the Heck Is Restrictive Early Action? A Review Of Application Deadline Options

Hand writing Admission with marker, concept background

Restrictive Early Action.  Early Decision.  Early Action.  Rolling Admission.  Regular Decision.  While you may feel as though you finally have a handle on all of the different options for application submission timing, there’s one more option out there that adds to the confusion:  Restrictive Early Action.  What is Restrictive Early Action?  What schools provide this option?

First, let’s start with a quick recap of the other application deadline options:

Early Decision (ED):  

Next, the application deadline is usually earlier than other options and students are given a decision about admission a few weeks after they send in their application.  So, students who apply ED cannot apply elsewhere ED, but may apply under other non-binding application plans.  Once students are accepted ED, they are obligated to attend the school and must withdraw any applications that they have submitted elsewhere.

Early Action (EA): 

Application deadline is usually earlier than other options and students are given a decision about admission a few weeks after they send in their application.  So, students applying EA may apply elsewhere to as many schools as they like under any application plan.  And, if they are accepted EA, they are not obligated to attend the school.

Rolling Admission:  

Also, students can submit their application any time within the application period and will receive an admissions decision within a few weeks of whenever they submit their application.  In addition, there is no obligation to attend the school, and students may apply wherever else under any application plan.

Regular Decision (RD):  

Application deadline is firm and usually the final one.  Applicants can submit under any application plan elsewhere and have no obligation to attend the school if they are accepted.  Students will typically receive their admission decision several weeks to months after the application deadline.

Want to learn more about all the various admissions deadlines and programs? See this post: Early Decision or Regular Decision: Which Is Better?

Restrictive Early Action

Now, onto Restrictive Early Action (REA)!  REA is essentially a hybrid of Early Decision and Early Action. REA requires students to submit their applications early and provides them with an admissions decision early, as well.  While the student isn’t obligated to go to the school if he or she is accepted, the student is restricted from applying to other schools early.  In all instances, the student is prohibited from applying Early Decision*, but in some cases, often referred to as Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), the school may also prohibit the student from applying to other schools Early Action, as well, unless the alternate school is a public institution.

Each school that offers REA/SCEA has nuances to what it requires, so it is always best to check directly on the school’s website to see what the particular restrictions are.  Also, if a student doesn’t follow the rules of a given school’s REA policy, and the school finds out, any offer of admission will be rescinded.

While the number of schools that offer Restrictive Early Action and Single Choice Early Action is limited, and tend to be the more selective institutions, these application options are likely to grow as these highly competitive places try to identify those students who are most interested in attending.  Following is a list of selected schools offering the REA/SCEA option in the 2019-2020 application year and the restrictions of each school for applying to other institutions:

Restrictive Early Action: Ability to Apply to Other Schools

REA School ED ED2 after 1/1* REA EA EA Public Rolling Public RD
Georgetown University NO NO NO YES YES YES YES
Harvard University NO YES NO NO YES YES YES
Princeton University NO YES NO NO YES YES YES
Stanford University NO YES NO NO YES YES YES
Yale University NO YES NO NO YES YES YES

*Also note that institutions who allow a student to apply to another school on an Early Decision II plan only allow this in cases where the ED submission deadline of the alternate school comes after the REA school’s admission response date.

Want to learn more about early application programs? Watch this video.

[VIDEO: Early Action Programs]

Confusing?  Yes!  But the big take-away is that if you run across a school that has a Restrictive Early Action option in which you are interested and where you would like to apply early, be sure to check the rules of the individual school.  To conclude, of all the application options out there, it is the only one that means different things to different schools.

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Consultant

Westfield, NJ


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