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Just when you thought you had mastered the alphabet soup of high school and college admissions PSAT (Practice SAT), SAT, AP (Advance Placement), ACT (American College Test) -- now you need to know the difference between ED, EA, RD, RA and even SCEA.

Here's a primer on different college application options:

*Early Decision -- ED: Students who apply Early Decision are making binding decisions; if they are accepted, they commit to attend. Acceptance rates are typically higher for students willing to commit early. This is a great option for students who are sure that a school is their first choice. Early Decision is especially advantageous for borderline students.

If students choose to apply ED, they are allowed to submit other college applications. However, once they are accepted, they are required to withdraw any applications. If they are not accepted under Early Decision, their applications are still considered with the regular decision applicant pool.

One of the biggest benefits of ED is the early notification. ED letters are sent from December through early January. For students at particularly competitive high schools, reducing the stress by knowing early on can represent a huge increase in quality of life.

The biggest downside to Early Decision is that families don't have the benefit of comparing financial aid offers among multiple schools. Concerns that Early Decision benefits wealthier families halted the ED programs at Harvard and the University of Virginia.

*Early Action -- EA: Early Action offers the benefits of Early Decision with no downside for students or their families. Students apply early, Oct. 15 through Nov. 15, and are notified early, Dec. 1 through Jan. 15, but they are not required to commit until May 1. Students can apply Early Action to as many colleges as they like.

*Single Choice Early Action -- SCEA: SCEA is a new option and not offered by many colleges. It has the benefits of Early Action (no commitment required until May 1), but students are not allowed to apply to any other colleges early. The colleges receive a clear message that this is a student's first-choice school and that has its advantages.

*Regular Decision -- RD: This is the final deadline for all applications. Most selective colleges require that all materials be submitted somewhere between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1. Notifications are released anywhere between mid-March to mid-April.

*Rolling Admissions -- RA: Colleges with a rolling admissions program review applications as they are submitted. Students can be notified within three weeks after submitting their materials.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.