The Meaning of Single-Choice Early Action and Restrictive Early Action

Learn about single-choice and restrictive early action programs

Stanford University
Stanford University. Daniel Hartwig / Flickr

Students who plan to apply through an early admission program will find that the options include more than early action (EA) and early decision (ED). A few select institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford offer single-choice early action or restrictive early action. These admission programs incorporate some features of both EA and ED. The result is a policy that is less restrictive than early decision, but more restrictive than early action.

Fast Facts: Single-Choice Early Action

  • Unlike regular early action, students can apply to only one school through an early admission program.
  • Application deadlines are often in early November, and decisions are typically received in December.
  • If admitted, students have until May 1st to make a decision, and unlike early decision, students are not bound to attend.

Defining Features of Single-Choice Early Action

  • Applicants must have their applications completed early, usually by November 1st.
  • Applicants will receive an admissions decision early, usually in mid-December. The decision date is before application deadlines for regular admission to the great majority of colleges and universities.
  • As with early decision, applicants can apply to just one school through an early admission program.
  • Applicants can apply to other colleges through their non-binding regular admission programs or rolling admission programs. Also, applicants are typically allowed to apply to any public universities and non-U.S. institutions as long as admission decisions are non-binding.
  • Like early action, single-choice early action applicants have until May 1st to make a decision. This allows applicants to compare offers of admission and financial aid packages from other colleges.
  • Like early action, single-choice early action admission decisions are non-binding. You do not need to attend the school if admitted.

Benefits of Applying Single-Choice Early Action

  • You can be done with your college search by mid-December. This can alleviate months of stress and uncertainty from your senior year.
  • Admit rates are higher (sometimes over twice as high) for the early applicant pool. Keep in mind that colleges will always say that the admission standards are the same for early and regular applicants, and the higher admit rates come about because the early applicant pool tends to include the strongest applicants. Still, the common wisdom is that if you are a competitive applicant, your chances are better in the early applicant pool.
  • You aren't required to attend the college you've applied to early. This is a significant advantage over early decision, and it allows you to do overnight visits in the winter or spring before making a final college decision.

Drawbacks of Applying Single-Choice Early Action

  • You need to have a polished application ready to go by November 1st. Some applicants rush to meet the early deadline, and as a result put forth an application that doesn't represent their best work.
  • You can't apply to other colleges through an early admission program. With regular early action, you can apply to multiple schools early.
  • You might receive a rejection letter in December, and this can be demoralizing as you continue to work on other college applications and wait for regular admission decisions.

As you think about whether or not to apply to a college through single-choice early action, keep in mind why the school is providing this option. When a college gives an offer of admission, it wants the student to accept that offer. An applicant who applies single-choice early action is sending a clear message that the college in question is his or her first-choice school. There is really no clearer way to demonstrate interest than applying early, and colleges can improve their yield significantly if they admit students with clearly demonstrated interest. Even though you are not bound to attend the college, you have sent a strong message that you are highly likely to attend. From the perspective of the admissions office, a high yield is extremely valuable—the college gets the students it wants, the college can better predict the size of the incoming class, and the college can rely less on waitlists.

Many of the country's very top colleges (included most with single-choice early action programs) state that they do not consider demonstrated interest when making admissions decisions. This may be true when it comes to factors such as campus visits and optional interviews. However, such schools are being insincere when the early applicant pool is accepted at a much higher rate than the regular applicant pool. The interest in the school that you demonstrate by applying early does matter.

A Final Word About Single-Choice Early Action

If you have your heart set on attending Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Boston College, Princeton or some other college with a single-choice or restrictive early action program, applying early is most likely a good choice. Make sure, however, that you have a strong application ready to go by November 1st, and make sure there are no other colleges offering early action or early decision that you would rather attend.

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Grove, Allen. "The Meaning of Single-Choice Early Action and Restrictive Early Action." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Grove, Allen. (2023, April 5). The Meaning of Single-Choice Early Action and Restrictive Early Action. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "The Meaning of Single-Choice Early Action and Restrictive Early Action." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).