Breaking Down the Different College Application Deadlines:

The differences between regular decision, early decision, early action and rolling admissions


As if the college application process was not complicated enough already, there are different types of application deadlines to understand. People call Fall of Senior year “application season” for a reason, as dates may vary school by school. In this article, I’ll explain the four most most popular deadlines: regular decision, early decision, early action and rolling admissions.



WHAT IT IS: Regular decision is the most standard deadline. This is the deadline in which the majority of students submit their applications for each college, usually on a specific date in early January. These applications are submitted and reviewed by admissions officers all in one batch (usually January-March), and accept/deny decisions are released a few months later on one specific date (usually mid-March).

WHEN IT’S DUE: Early to late January

PROS: Your child will have a more time during the Fall of their Senior year to work on their applications (compared to the earlier deadlines). This means your kid will have more time to write and get feedback on essays, take the SAT or ACT one last time if needed, or squeeze in a few more activities or awards to include in their resume.

CONS: Students will not hear admit/deny decisions until the Spring, which can feel like an eternity for a high school senior. Additionally, if the college has an option to apply early decision or early action, the percentage of applicants admitted during regular decision may be lower than some of the early application rates.




WHAT IT IS: Early decision is a binding contract with an earlier application deadline, typically in the Fall. Binding means that if your child is accepted to this school, they must withdraw all applications to any other college. Since early decision is a serious commitment, it’s important that your child only apply if they are 100% sure that this is the school they most want to attend. If your child is not 100% certain about which school they most want to attend, he or she should not apply early decision.

WHEN IT’S DUE: Early to mid-November

PROS: Applicants hear back faster and earlier than regular admissions, and if accepted, the stress of college applications is over. If there’s a school that your child is certain he/she wants to attend above all else, then early decision might be a great choice. Some schools also have a higher admit rate for students that apply early decision.

CONS: Since the application deadline for ED is much earlier than regular admissions, it’s best for students to begin working on these applications during the summer or early in the school year. Not all students are fully prepared to submit applications by this early deadline. If admitted, students must withdraw all of the applications that they have already submitted, and decline any acceptances they may have already received. Additionally, students will not have the opportunity to choose from different financial aid packages; students who will rely heavily on financial aid may want to consider one of the other application deadlines discussed in this article.



WHAT IT IS: Early action applications have similar timing to early decision deadlines, but early action is typically not binding. Early action means that the school is a top priority and your child is likely to attend if accepted. But, typically, he or she may apply to as many early action schools as they’d like.

WHEN IT’S DUE: Early to mid-November

PROS: Students will receive an admit/deny decision much earlier than regular decision, yet they can wait until reviewing all options later in the year to make a decision. Students can wait until Spring (once they’ve heard back from all schools) to make a final decision about whether or not they will attend this school.

CONS: The deadline is still much earlier than regular admissions, leaving less time to prepare the application during Senior year. Additionally, there is a possibility that early action acceptance rates may be lower than other deadlines. However, this is not always the case so it’s important to research this information for each specific school.

Note: Another subcategory of early action is restrictive early action. Restrictive early action is very similar to early decision, as students can only early action to this one school. In other words, they are unable to apply to any other school as early decision or early action. While this shows a school that the applicant is serious about attending their school, the difference here is that students are not bound to that school (like they are with early decision applications). Students can still choose to attend a school which they apply to through regular or rolling admissions.


WHAT IT IS: Unlike regular admissions, schools review rolling applications on a rolling bases as they are submitted (instead of all at once in a big batch). These colleges make acceptance / rejection decisions quickly, and students usually hear back within only a few short weeks after applying. It’s best to submit these applications as early on as possible, as more spaces are still available for the next class of students earlier on in the applications season.

WHEN IT’S DUE: Applications are usually accepted starting at the beginning of students’ Senior year (Aug/Sep) through the beginning of Spring

PROS: The biggest benefit to rolling admissions is that your child will get an admit/deny decision quicker than other deadlines, which can reduce a lot of stress in the college application process if they get admitted to a school early on in the year. Rolling admissions also allow for flexible scheduling around other deadlines so you child is not submitting every application all at one time.

CONS: If your child submits their application toward the end of this deadline, there will be fewer spaces left for that year’s cohort. Although there is a larger timeframe in which these colleges accept applications, once the cohort is full, the admissions window will close.


The gamble with Early Admissions

In addition to preparing and finishing applications earlier in the school year, it’s important to know that early action and early decision can also work against your child. By applying early decision or early action, your child will be competing against other kids from around the world who are equally serious about attending that particular college. Oftentimes, these applications are submitted by more qualified candidates, and your child will need to put their best foot forward with a stellar application. However, some schools actually admit a larger percentage of students who apply early so it’s important to review statistics for each particular schools that your child wishes to apply to.


Why are there so many different deadlines?

You may be wondering why there are so many different types of application deadlines. These different deadlines allow colleges to understand which students are most interested in attending their particular school (i.e. students who apply early decision or early action). It also allows admissions officers to stagger incoming applications, thereby allowing for more time and dedication to review each individual applications at different times throughout the year.


The take-aways

To summarize, it’s extremely important to research which schools offer which deadlines, and to think very carefully about when your child will apply to each school. Early decision is a binding contract, whereas early action (typically) is not. But remember: applying early can also work against your child, due to competition, limiting other schools, and giving less flexibility to choose between different financial aid opportunities. And lastly, rolling admissions is always a great option if offered. In the end, the application process is very taxing, and spacing out which deadlines your child chooses can ease the stress a bit.







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