How to decipher college application deadlines
The many types of college application deadlines can be terribly confusing for students and their parents. But once you figure out what all these deadlines mean, you can use them to your advantage by formulating a plan. Application strategy is a huge part of the process. As soon as students finalize their list of schools, I sit down with them and plot out when we’ll send out certain applications based on what deadline options we want to employ.
To help you understand the ins and outs of the various deadline options, we’ve provided the following primer.
Early Decision and Early Decision II
This is the best way to demonstrate your interest in a college. It’s important to understand, however, that Early Decision is a binding agreement. In other words, if you apply Early Decision to a college and are accepted, you have to attend that school and withdraw all your other applications. Part of what this means is that you won’t have the opportunity to wait and find out about financial aid and scholarship packages from other schools.
Nevertheless, applying Early Decision can be advantageous because the acceptance rates are often significantly higher than with the Regular Decision pool. For the vast majority of schools, the Early Decision deadline is on or around Nov. 1 with decisions being revealed around mid-December. Some schools offer an Early Decision II option, which often times has a deadline on or around Jan. 1. ED II plans afford students the opportunity to make a binding commitment at a later date. This maybe a useful option for students who were denied to their top choice school after applying ED I. An important tip: Never apply Early Decision to a college you haven’t visited; that’s akin to buying a house without ever having set foot on the property.
An important tip: Never apply Early Decision to a college you haven’t visited; that’s akin to buying a house without ever having set foot on the property.
Early Action is one of my favorite options because you receive an admissions decision early in the process without the commitment that comes with Early Decision. The application deadline is typically on or around Nov. 1, and by Christmas you should know whether you were accepted, denied or deferred into the Regular Decision pool. Even a denial, while disappointing, is helpful because you find out relatively early whether you should move on and focus your attention on other schools. I encourage students to apply Early Action whenever possible.
Regular Decision is just that—the standard application deadline. This is usually anywhere from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, and sometimes as late as Feb. 1. By late March, you should have a decision and a financial aid package, including merit-based awards. Regular Decision is particularly beneficial for late-bloomers because it enables them to include their seventh-semester grades in their application.
You primarily see this practice at large public research institutions such as the University of Iowa. It simply means that admission decisions are made as applications roll in the door. You might apply on Nov. 3 and have a decision by Nov. 5. Typically, these schools receive applications throughout the entire season and continue to admit students until their class is full. Rolling Admissions isn’t of great benefit to students—it’s more of a protocol for the university. However, it is sometimes good for the soul to score a quick “admit” decision.
Restrictive Early Action
Stanford is the best-known school for Restrictive Early Action, although Notre Dame and a handful of other schools has a variation of it. Restrictive Early Action isn’t a binding agreement, but students are limited regarding the other schools to which they can apply Early Action. Basically, the school is saying, “You can only apply Early Action here.” Although this route narrows your options, it provides you with a leg up as far as demonstrating your interest in a college.
Kendall Hayes is a college counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Hayes and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.