4 Major College Application Deadlines to Keep in Mind

Regular Decision

With the regular decision deadline, students submit an application by a particular date and receive a decision at a clearly stated, later date. The most common RD decision deadline is January 1st. However, the regular decision deadline for UC schools is much earlier, on November 30th. 

Some schools have RD deadlines that fall earlier, such as December 1st, and others fall later in January or February. For most RD applications, you’ll apply either through the Common Application or Coalition Application. UC schools and some Texas schools have their own application systems, called the UC Application and ApplyTexas respectively. Then, each school has a set date when they release their admission decision, usually in March or April. 

The most important thing to know about the regular decision application is that it is non-binding, meaning if you get into the school you apply to, you don’t necessarily have to go there. Therefore, we at College Essay Guy suggest applying to about 8-10 schools if you go the RD route. This decision process is meant to provide stability, predictability, and neutral decision-making. 

Here are some examples of regular decision applications:

Should you apply regular decision?

Yes. Assuming you have a balanced college list and are applying during the typical application timeline (meaning not applying during rolling admissions, see below), you’ll apply to somewhere between 6-9 schools RD. The hard part is to choose which single school you’d like to apply EA/ED (if any). 

Early Action

The early action deadline is designed for students who want to complete the admission process early in their senior year. With early action, a school has a designated date to apply early and a following date to release their admission decision, earlier than the regular decision timeline. However, applying early action, like regular decision, is non-binding. Applying early action doesn’t restrict a student from applying to other schools or for scholarships and financial aid, unlike early decision.

Most schools with early action deadlines fall around early to mid-November, and they release their admission decisions around mid-December. Since it is non-binding, early action applications don’t typically increase the rate of admission, and it tends to be the same admission rate as a regular decision application. The biggest reason to apply early action is simply to get your application submitted and hear your decision sooner, relative to other application timelines. 

Here are some examples of early action applications:

Should you apply early action? 

  • Pros: Early action is non-binding and you can hear about your admission decision earlier in the school year. 

  • Cons: Your chance of admission doesn’t usually increase compared to regular decision.

It depends. Consider applying EA if:

  1. You know you really like a school, but you don’t have your heart 100% set on attending if you get in.

  2. You want to get your application done early and are prepared to do so.

  3. The school you want to apply to offers EA (not every school does, so you’ll have to check).

  4. You want to apply to more than one school early (applying EA or rolling, not ED). 

Early Decision 

The early decision deadline is designed for students who have a very strong desire to attend a particular school early in the application process. NACAC defines early decision as when students “make a commitment to the first-choice institution where, if admitted, they definitely will enroll and withdraw all other applications.” In other words, the early decision application is binding, meaning you commit to attending the school if you get in. 

Like early action, the early decision application deadline occurs early in the school year, usually the beginning of November. You’ll also hear back with your admission decision early, around mid-December. 

Since the early decision timeline is binding, you will only be choosing one school to apply to, and you should not plan to apply to any other schools until you hear back about your decision. You technically sign a “contract” (although not a legal contract) saying you understand and will abide by the ED restrictions. There may be some flexibility within these contracts that you can explore with help from your guidance counselor, but generally schools take the ED restrictions seriously. 

Here are some examples of early decision applications:

Should you apply early decision?

  • Pros: Often, early decision offers a higher admission rate for the school relative to their regular decision rate. Some schools’ admission rates may jump from 10% to 30%, but not every school. Here is a list of schools’ admission rates if you want to compare.

  • Cons: Since early decision is binding, it can be a greater commitment financially for families. The college will put together a financial aid package that you will be expected to pay. So ask: Can your family afford to pay the Estimated Family Contribution or EFC that was determined by your FAFSA application or Net Price Calculator (or can they pay whatever the college tells you to)?

For more help, check out this complete guide to understanding finances when applying to college

Consider applying ED if you are:

  1. Totally in love with the college and would absolutely attend 

  2. Have done thorough research and can name why the college is a match for you

  3. Have visited the campus (or done enough virtual visiting) 

  4. Know your test scores are in range of students who are accepted

  5. Your grades, extracurricular activity profile, and the support from my school demonstrates I have a reasonable chance of getting in.

  6. Understand your family finances well enough to know you can afford to attend (assuming you might not get as much financial aid as you hoped to). 

Restrictive Early Action or “Single-Choice” Early Action 

Restrictive early action falls somewhere between early decision and early action. With restrictive early action, students apply to an institution of preference and receive a decision early without having to necessarily commit if they get in. However, in this case, there is a “restrictive” element: in certain cases, you may be restricted from applying to other institutions early decision or early action. While it’s not a binding commitment like early decision, you may be bound to only applying to this one school early, and you must apply to all others regular decision. 

Few schools offer restrictive early action, but here are some examples:

Should you apply restrictive early action? 

  • Pros: There’s not as much of a binding contract as ED, but it demonstrates a stronger interest than applying RD. It can also slightly increase your admission chances more than RD or EA.

  • Cons: It doesn’t increase your chances of getting in as much as applying ED. It also potentially prevents you from applying to as many colleges, since it restricts you from applying anywhere else early. 

Restrictive early action tends to be best for students who fall somewhere between early decision and early action in terms of their readiness to commit to a particular school. 

Rolling Admissions

Rolling Admissions is the most flexible process. Institutions review applications as they are submitted and render admission decisions throughout the admission cycle. There is no set deadline to apply or receive your admission decision. 

Here are some examples of rolling admission applications:

Should you apply through rolling admission? 

  • Pros: You can apply early and hear back about your decision sooner. You also may have a higher chance of admission the earlier you apply, since applications are evaluated on a first-come basis. There is also no binding contract. 

  • Cons: Spots may fill up quickly since applications are processed quickly. Admissions rates may decrease the later you wait to apply. 

Most schools do not offer rolling admission, but check over your list to see if any schools you are applying to do. Rolling admissions can be a great option for you if you decide to apply to a college last minute, too. 

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