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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Silbernagel

College Application Deadline Debrief

deadline calendar

High school students on the home stretch of the college application process not only need to finalize where they will apply but when. Application deadlines vary between colleges, plus many colleges offer more than one deadline option with different dates and stipulations.

College Transitions has created a searchable list of deadlines by college. But the best way to be sure of a college's deadline is to look it up. When you do, you may see several options that vary by college.

There are seven main types of admission deadlines and while the names may be similar the differences are significant. Here are the most salient points for each type:

Early Decision (ED)*

  • Binding, which means the student agrees to attend the college if it accepts them and offers adequate financial aid

  • Can apply ED to only one college

  • Apps are due in November, notification is usually in December

  • If accepted via ED, the student must withdraw all other applications

  • If not admitted via ED, the student may be “deferred to the Regular Decision deadline

  • Potential drawback - due to the early notification, the student may not be able to compare financial aid award packages from other college admissions

    • Choose this option if you have found your best fit school, are a strong candidate for admission and can afford tuition

Early Decision II (ED II)*

  • Early Decision II is a second round of ED of binding admissions

  • Similar to regular Early Decision, but with a later deadline

    • The typical deadline is January 1 or January 15.

* The acceptance rate for Early Decision admissions (both ED I and ED II) is usually higher than it is for Regular Decision, though specific rate differences vary from school to school. The higher acceptance rate is the primary benefit of this type of application. But, these rates should be viewed with a grain of salt, as early applicant "spots" may be reserved for recruited athletes, legacy applicants or special low-income scholarship applicants. Read this interesting perspective on Brown's ED admissions process.

Restricted Early Action/Single-choice Early Action

  • Restrictive Early Action (REA) -- non-binding, but does not allow the applicant to apply to any other schools that are ED

  • Typically the institutions that use REA are the most selective ones such as Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard

  • Such schools may allow the applicant to simultaneously apply to a public university with a non-binding early application deadline or to other colleges via RD (check for confirmation)

Early Action

  • Non-binding - can submit early and still have time to decide

  • Usually, submit in early November and receive notification by December

  • Can compare financial aid offers from all schools

Regular Decision

  • Default application deadline

  • Most submission deadlines fall between the end of December and early February

  • Non-binding and available at most institutions

  • Decisions by March or April and will be required to respond (accept or decline) by May/June

Priority Admissions/Priority Deadline

  • Similar to RD, but usually with an earlier deadline

  • After the deadline has passed, applications are accepted on a case-by-case basis

  • Non-binding

Rolling Decision

  • Can apply at any time up until a certain date (for example, until July 1).

  • Under rolling admission, the application remains open and students are admitted as long as space is available

  • Non-binding, but you’ll want to get your application in sooner rather than later, because once the college or program fills up, no more applications will be accepted

  • Many schools actually recommend that you send in your application around the same time as a regular decision application, just to be sure there is space

Main Reasons for Applying Early:

  • An improved chance of being accepted

  • An improved chance of receiving merit aid

  • First choice for housing

  • More time to prepare for college and study for high school classes/AP tests, if accepted

  • More time to apply to other colleges with later deadlines if you get rejected

  • Peace of mind

Caveat: Students should only apply early if their application is “done.” A rushed application will not receive an advantage in the admissions process if it does not present the student’s best profile.

Advantage of Early Action over Early Decision

  • The opportunity it gives the student to apply to — and ultimately compare financial aid packages from — several schools. If a student is accepted Early Decision, they risk missing the admission deadlines of other schools while they wait for your award package to arrive. If that award is lackluster, you have fewer options.

Understanding the nuances in the different deadline options can help students design their application outline timeline and provide structure to their application process. Having a plan is the best way to beat application stress.


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