Single Choice Early Action Explained (Finally!)


Today, there are so many different admissions plans available to students applying to college and it can be daunting trying to understand them all. The two are the least understood are probably Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) and Restrictive Early Action (REA).

Who offers Single Choice or Restrictive Early Action?: There are very few schools offering this kind of admissions plan and the ones that do tend to be hyper-selective. 

What's the difference between Restrictive Early Action and Single Choice Early Action?:Honestly, the difference is purely semantics. You would think that "single choice" means students are limited to one early action application and that "restrictive" just means that there are limits or restrictions placed on how many early action applications a student can file. Alas, it is not so. There is no meaningful distinction between these two plans (other than their names!). The reality is that there are a very small number of colleges offering these sorts of admissions plans and each one applies its own definition. As I explain below, there are ways that even Single Choice Early Action (SCEA)  allows you to put in other early applications.

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How does Single Choice or Restrictive Early Action differ from a typical Early Action plan?:These programs are, like other early action programs, non-binding, which means that if you apply and get in, you do not have to attend the institution. You will still be given until May 1st to make your decision and you are free to go to other places to which you have been accepted. Here is the catch. When you apply through a Restrictive or Single Choice Early Action plan, you are generally not allowed to apply to other Early Action or Early Decision program EXCEPT, wait for it:

  • You may still apply to Early Action (EA) to public colleges/universities
  • You can usually also apply to foreign institutions on any timeline.
  • You may typically apply to Rolling Admissions programs.
  • You may be able to apply for other college's priority or scholarship deadlines.
  • Rarely, a Restrictive/Single Choice Early Action policy only prevents you from applying to other schools through a binding Early Decision (ED) program.

Please remember to double check each school's policy.

Want some examples? Here's Yale's policy, as well as Princeton's, Harvard's, Stanford's, Boston College's, and Georgetown'sBaylor offers both a standard Early Action program and a Single Choice Early Action program. Although it would be fair to say that all of the policies are similar, there are some important differences. For example, at Boston College and Georgetown, you are allowed to apply to any other Early Action programs you like, but you are not allowed to apply anywhere else Early Decision I.

Why do colleges do this?: They do it because they are cruel. Well, that isn't too far from the truth. The kinds of places offering SCEA/REA tend to have very high yield (percentage of admitted students who go on to attend). The only time they "lose" the students they want is when they're competing with each other. These plans limit the degree to which these schools have to compete with each other for the students they want most (this is my opinion).

Bottom line: For all the schools to which you are applying, be sure that you are aware of all applicable admissions policies and deadlines. The more you know, the less confusing the process becomes. And, please, do not be afraid to call admissions offices directly about these plans.

Rhiannon Schade is the Director of College Counseling for Collegewise of Millburn. Rhiannon and her colleagues (who have worked in college admissions at a variety of colleges throughout the country) help students find, apply to, and attend the right colleges for them. If you have any questions or you would like to continue the conversation started in this post, please feel free to email Rhiannon at

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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