The Tuesday Q&A: Single-Choice Early Action Programs


I’m going into my senior year and have been looking at some of my applications options. I noticed that Harvard and Yale have Single-Choice Early Action programs. How are they different from Early Action or Early Decision programs, and should I apply?


Ah, SCEA admissions. To put it bluntly, it’s more serious than Early Action, but less serious than Early Decision. Confused? Let’s explain…

So, when it comes to applying to undergraduate programs, schools set a Regular Decision deadline, usually in the December-January range. Now, if you’re POSITIVE that you want to go to a particular school, you can apply Early Decision or Early Action, with application deadlines in the fall, usually November or so. This is an appealing option to students who already have VERY strong profiles by the beginning of their senior year. So, if you’ve got a 4.0 GPA going into your last year of high school, great extracurriculars, and a 35 on your ACT, applying early could be a way of getting to the front of the application line at your dream schools.

Now, the difference between Early Decision and Early Action is pretty straightforward—one is binding, the other isn’t. If you apply Early Decision, you’re accepting their admissions offer in advance in case they select you. The top schools share this info and honor each other’s agreements, so if you break it by applying to more than one ED program or turn down a school that admits you ED… you’re REALLY hurting your chances in the other top programs. Early Action, on the other hand, give you the benefit of an early admissions decision without locking you into a contract with a particular school. You can applying to multiple EA programs and accept or turn down offers as you wish.

Some of the top programs, however, want to keep their competitive and exclusive edge, which brings us to the Single-Choice Early Action program. This is pretty much a hybrid of ED and EA programs, which gives you the option to accept or turn down your admissions offer when it comes and frees you up to apply to other programs after you’ve received the SCEA school’s admissions decision. That said, you can only apply to one SCEA program, just like ED admissions.

What are those possible admissions decisions? Well, you’re in, you’re out, or you’re deferred, meaning that they think you’re great, but they want to see how your senior year goes so they can compare you to their RD applicants. It’s not really like getting waitlisted, and they’ll automatically keep your application active for this consideration unless you withdraw it.

The benefits of SCEA? Well, if you don’t get in, it’s still early enough to apply for Regular Decision programs everywhere else. It also frees you up to do more with your senior year of high school when it comes to taking more challenging classes, if you’re worried about hurting a stellar GPA. So, if you know that Harvard is your NUMBER ONE choice, and you’ve got a KILLER profile going in to senior year of high school, you should consider applying SCEA.

College News: Getting Ready for Freshman Year and More