Is Harvard’s Restrictive Early Action (REA) Admission Program Binding? No!

In this article, college admission expert Neil Chyten explains the differences between Early Decision, Early Action, and Restrictive Early Action programs, and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

It seems counterintuitive that any early admission program offered by Harvard would not be binding. However, it is not binding! Restrictive Early Action, or REA as it is widely referred to, is the same as any Early Action (EA) program in that a student is not required to enroll if accepted. However, that is where the “Restrictive” part comes in. While Harvard’s REA program is not binding, it is highly restrictive in that you are not allowed to apply to any other private college’s or university’s EA or Early Decision (ED) programs. For example, you could not simultaneously apply REA to Harvard and EA to MIT. You could, however, apply EA (not ED) to University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, since they are both public institutions.

Harvard’s REA admission program is identical to those offered by Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. In all four cases, you are allowed to apply to any public university’s non-binding EA program, however you are not allowed to apply to any private university’s EA or ED admission plan. University of Notre Dame has a less restrictive REA program in that you may apply to other colleges under their non-binding EA programs, but you may still not apply to any college, whether public or private, under a binding ED program.

So, then, what are the differences between ED, EA and REA admission programs? ED programs are binding, meaning that you must attend that school if you are accepted. The only exceptions are if a different school has offered you a better financial aid package. In this case, you may petition the school where you were accepted under the ED program to be released from their ED acceptance. The initial school where you were accepted would then have the opportunity to match or better the financial aid package offered to you by the other school. ED typically gives you a competitive advantage in the admission process, meaning that your odds of acceptance will increase if you apply to a school under their ED admission program. In some cases, this advantage can be significant.

EA is non-binding but offers very little, if any, competitive advantage in admissions. The main advantage to EA is that your acceptance comes significantly earlier than it would through the Regular Admission (RA) program. Typically, EA decisions come out in December, whereas RA decisions typically come out in March. Therefore, applying EA can save you many months of stress and anxiety over wondering where you will be attending college in the fall.

Like ED, REA also gives you a competitive advantage in admission. The difference between REA and ED is that acceptance under the REA program is non-binding, meaning that you could choose to attend that college, or not, depending on what other admission offers you receive. Strategically, you should only choose the ED or REA admission program if you are sure that you want to attend the college to which you are applying under these admission programs.

One distinct disadvantage to any of these early admission programs is that you must complete the application process significantly earlier than you do for regular admission programs. Typically, early admission applications are due in November, whereas regular decision applications are typically due in January. Of course, there are exceptions. The most notable exception is the University of California system which requires you to have your application completed and submitted by November 30. Completing your application does not only mean getting your essays written, edited, and proofread; you must also make sure that your transcript and recommendations are sent as well. Another disadvantage to early admission programs is that colleges may not be able to see your first semester senior year grades in time. There are ways that you can submit fall grades, but it is somewhat of a process, and they still may arrive too late to be factored into your admission decision.

As with many facets of college admission, deciding which admission plans to adopt for all the colleges on your list is both important and strategic. It helps to get expert advice to ensure that you are always making the most advantageous decisions given your unique circumstances.