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Restrictive Early Action Schools

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students walking in the school campus.

Restrictive early action (REA), also known as single-choice early action (SCEA), provides another opportunity for high school seniors who have excelled academically and have their sights set on attending a top university. In this blog, we provide a list of the restrictive early action schools and what your odds are if you apply to one of them through REA.

What is Restrictive Early Action?

Early action is a form of admissions that is offered by some educational institutions to provide admission decisions significantly earlier than the typical response time.

To be considered for early action, students typically submit their applications for undergraduate programs by the middle of October or the beginning of November during their senior year of high school. This is earlier than the typical application deadline of December 1 or January 15.

Now, what does restrictive early action mean?

The simplest definition of “restrictive early action” is an admissions policy used by some colleges and universities that allows students to apply early and receive a decision earlier than regular admission applicants. Under this policy, students are not required to attend if admitted, but they are restricted from applying early to other schools.

Moreover, students can submit applications to other colleges, either through the regular admissions process or the rolling admissions process. They are also allowed to apply at any time to the early application program of a public school or a college or university located in another country, provided that the requirements of those programs are not binding.

Students who wish to apply to restrictive early action schools or SCEA must apply to the institution of their choice well in advance, typically at the beginning of November. They should anticipate a decision regarding their application somewhere around the middle of December. Students have until May 1 (regular decision day) to make their choice, even if they are accepted through restrictive early action, which is a non-binding admissions process.

Attractive happy young girl student studying at the college library, sitting at the desk, using laptop computer, having video chat, waving

Those who have been accepted to schools with restrictive early action or SCEA are not required to decide until they have received word on the outcome of their regular admissions applications.

Which Schools Have Restrictive Early Action?

So, which schools have restrictive early action? Only a very few universities and colleges practice either restrictive early action or single-choice early action. Let’s take a look at the restrictive early action schools from the Top 50 national universities that implements this policy:

School Name Application Deadline Notification Date
Harvard University November 1, 2024 December 15, 2024
Stanford University November 1, 2024 December 16, 2024
California Institute of Technology November 1, 2024 December 10, 2024
University of Notre Dame November 1, 2024 December 16, 2024
Princeton University November 1, 2024 December 15, 2024
Yale University November 1, 2024 December 15, 2024

Note: Both Princeton and Yale offer Single-Choice Early Action, but it’s still technically the same as Restrictive Early Action

Harvard University 

To receive a decision by mid-December, applicants interested in Harvard’s Restrictive Early Action plan should submit their applications by November 1. If accepted, you have until May 1 to respond, and you are not obligated to attend even if admitted.

Under Harvard’s Restrictive Early Action plan, you cannot apply to other private institutions using early decision, early action, or restrictive early action plans, nor can you apply to a binding early program at a public university. This restriction applies even if you use the early action plan for Harvard.

You may, however, submit early applications to public universities, military academies, or universities outside the United States that do not have binding programs. Additionally, you can apply to other universities’ early decision II or regular decision programs.

If your application is deferred during the early action round, you may apply to another college’s binding early decision program (e.g., early decision II). When applying to restrictive early action schools, you are also allowed to apply for scholarships or special academic programs with early deadlines at other institutions, public or private, if the timing is critical and the outcome is non-binding.

Harvard will meet the full financial need of admitted students, whether they applied through early action or regular decision.

Stanford University

Stanford’s non-binding Restrictive Early Action is for students who consider Stanford their first choice and have excelled academically. The application deadline is November 1. 

When you apply to Stanford through their Restrictive Early Action, you cannot apply to any other private college using early action, restrictive early action, early decision, or early notification plans. You also cannot apply to any public university using an early binding plan like early decision. However, you are still free to apply to other colleges and universities through regular decision processes.

a college student looking at her laptop

If your application to Stanford’s Restrictive Early Action is deferred, you can then apply to another college’s Early Decision II program.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Restrictive Early Action at Caltech is for students who consider Caltech their top choice. It allows you to apply early and receive a decision sooner, but you are not obligated to attend if accepted.

You can still explore offers from other colleges, especially regarding financial aid, by applying to them through their regular decision process. Submit your REA application by November 1, and Caltech will notify you of their decision by mid-December. If accepted, you have until May 1 to decide whether to attend Caltech.

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame offers both binding and non-binding early action programs.

Students applying for schools with restrictive early action such as Notre Dame can apply to other early action programs at private or public colleges. However, they cannot apply to any binding early decision programs at other institutions.

Applying early does not indicate a first-choice preference, and students have until May 1 to decide whether to attend. Rarely, students may request to change their application from regular decision to restrictive early action. If you want to make this change after submitting your regular decision application, you have until November 15 to do so through the applicant status portal, provided you submitted by the November 1 REA deadline.

Princeton University

Princeton University’s single-choice early action program is not binding. If accepted, you have until May 1 to decide whether to enroll. If you apply by the November 1 deadline, you cannot apply to any early programs at other private colleges or universities if you opt for restrictive early action schools.

However, you can:

  • Apply early to any public institution or military academy, as long as the decision is not binding.
  • Apply early to international institutions if the decision is not binding.
  • Apply early to colleges or universities with a non-binding rolling admission process.

Yale University

Generally, if you apply for single-choice early action at Yale, you cannot apply for early action or early decision at other schools simultaneously. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule:

  • You can apply to any non-binding college with a rolling admission program.
  • You can apply to any public institution at any time, as long as the acceptance is not binding.
  • You can apply to the early decision II program of another college, but the notification of admission must occur after January 1.
  • If admitted to another college’s early decision II binding program, you must withdraw your Yale application.
  • You can apply to the early action II program of another college.
  • You can apply to any school outside the United States at any time.

Early Action vs. Restrictive Early Action vs. Early Decision

Early Action (EA), Restrictive Early Action (REA), and Early Decision (ED) offer different early admission options for college applications.

  • Early Action (EA) lets you apply and get an admission decision earlier than the regular timeline, without having to commit if accepted. This gives you the benefit of knowing your status sooner while still being able to compare offers from other schools. You can also apply to other schools’ early action or early decision programs, making it a flexible choice.
  • Restrictive Early Action (REA), also called Single-Choice Early Action, is non-binding like EA but limits you from applying to other private colleges’ early programs. You can still apply to public universities’ early programs and other non-binding admissions processes.
  • Early Decision (ED) is binding—if accepted, you must attend the college and withdraw all other applications. ED is for those who are sure about their top-choice school and willing to commit.

Both REA and ED show strong interest to colleges, possibly boosting your acceptance chances, but they come with more restrictions and commitments compared to regular Early Action.

Is Restrictive Early Action for You?

If you have decided which school is your top choice, we always recommend that you apply early. It increases your chances of acceptance and provides the best chance of being accepted. Colleges receive far fewer early applications than regular ones, allowing admissions staff to review each early application closely.

a female student thinking of something while using laptop

Students should have strong essays, letters of recommendation, interesting extracurricular activities, and personal narratives that showcase their character. These applicants tend to be academic all-stars highly sought after by colleges.

Applying to restrictive early action schools, regardless of the specific type of early admission, generally increases a student’s chance of acceptance. The strongest candidates usually apply restrictive early action to the most selective schools.

For example, Princeton, one of the schools with restrictive early action, has a regular acceptance rate of about 4.2% and a restrictive early action acceptance rate of 15.5%, according to U.S. News data. While the restrictive early action acceptance rate is much higher, the pool of early applicants is very strong. Applying regular decisions would place applicants in a weaker pool of candidates to compete against.

To determine if Restrictive Early Action (REA) is the right choice for your college application process, consider these:

  • Assess your readiness: Evaluate your grades and extracurricular activities. Are they strong and impressive? Students who apply early typically have excellent academic records and achievements. Ensure that your accomplishments are competitive enough to stand out among other early applicants.
  • Consider your top choice: Is the college you’re considering for REA your absolute favorite? With REA, you can only apply early to one college, so it should be your top choice. Although REA is non-binding and you can decline the offer later, you won’t be able to apply early to other institutions.
  • Understand the implications: Applying through REA signals strong interest in the college. While it’s not a binding commitment like Early Decision, it still demonstrates that you are serious about attending this particular school. Make sure you are ready to convey this level of commitment.

Does Restrictive Early Action Increase Your Chances?

Students accepted through Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA) can move past the college application process early, allowing them to focus on preparing for college and reducing the stress and uncertainty of waiting for decisions. But does applying through REA/SCEA increase your chances? Here are the advantages:

Applying early gives students a better chance of acceptance because admissions officers can identify those genuinely enthusiastic about attending their school. The early applicant pool also includes the most competitive candidates, which boosts early admission rates.

Students who apply to restrictive early action schools receive an early response from their top choice and have the opportunity to compare costs, financial awards, and visit (or revisit) the school before making a final decision.

While it’s challenging to predict all the factors influencing a college’s acceptance rate, here are some tips for estimating your chances:

  1. Compare your SAT score and GPA to the typical scores accepted by the school.
  2. Calculate the acceptance percentage compared to actual enrollment to understand the admissions process better.
  3. Research the acceptance rate relative to the school’s tuition, fees, and financial aid.
  4. Compare the institution’s acceptance rate with those of similar schools.

Gaining admission to colleges with lower acceptance rates is more challenging. Selective colleges have lower acceptance rates, leading to a more competitive application process.

Balance REA with Other College Application Options

Managing REA alongside other application options requires a strategic approach:

  • Plan for Multiple Outcomes: Prepare for the possibility that you might not be accepted through REA by having a list of other colleges to apply to through Regular Decision. Be ready to submit these applications promptly if needed.
  • Enhance Your Application: Use the time between your REA application and the regular decision deadlines to strengthen your profile. Focus on improving your grades, participating in meaningful extracurricular activities, and securing strong letters of recommendation.
  • Stay Organized: Keep track of all application deadlines and requirements for your other prospective colleges. Ensure you are fully prepared to move forward regardless of the REA outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does restrictive early action mean?

Restrictive Early Action (REA) is a non-binding early admissions option. It lets you apply and get a decision earlier than the regular timeline. However, if you apply to schools with restrictive early action, you can’t apply to other schools’ early action, early decision, or restrictive early action programs, except for public universities or international institutions. While REA doesn’t require you to attend if accepted, it shows strong interest in the school.

A student studying

Which schools have restrictive early action?

Only a few universities and colleges offer restrictive early action or single-choice early action. Here are restrictive early action schools from the Top 50 national universities.

  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University

Are restrictive early action and single-choice early action the same?

Yes, restrictive early action and single-choice early action are the same. Both are non-binding early admissions processes where you can apply to only one school early and get a decision sooner. You aren’t obligated to attend if accepted, but you can’t apply to other schools’ early action or early decision programs, except for public universities or international institutions.

a curly girl thinking while holding her pencil and notebook

Can you apply restrictive early action to multiple schools?

No, you cannot apply restrictive early action to multiple schools. Restrictive early action, or single-choice early action, allows you to apply early to only one school. This policy shows strong interest in that specific institution. If you choose to apply to restrictive early action schools, you can’t apply early to other private colleges or universities. However, you can still apply early to public universities, military academies, or international schools as long as their programs are non-binding.

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