College Deadlines 101

application post-it
Let’s review the four types of college applications and their requirements and deadlines.

The four types of college application deadlines are regular decision (RD), early action (EA), early decision (ED), and rolling admissions (RA). All have different requirements and different, but critical, deadlines. If your application is stellar, but not submitted on time, it’s likely never to be reviewed at all.

Below we’ve compiled a general guide to the types of college applications and their timelines. Every school is different, so it’s important to review each school’s policy specifically before you apply.

Regular Decision

Regular decision applications are the most common, and typically due January 1, sometimes January 15 of your senior year. Colleges receive the applications, review them, and send acceptance letters in March or early April. Students have until May 1, commonly known as “college decision day,” to accept. You can apply to as many schools as you like, and choose your favorite from those that accept you. No restrictions.

Early Action

Early action pushes your application submission deadline a few months earlier to November 1 or 15. You should receive your answer sometime in December, often before regular decisions applications are due.
You can get accepted, denied, or sometimes deferred—meaning your application goes into the regular application pool to be reviewed again.
More and more students are applying early, so deferrals are becoming more common. Don’t consider a deferral as a “no,” but be sure to follow up with updated grades or test scores as needed.

With early action applications, you are not obligated to accept admission, and you still have until May 1 to send your acceptance. Not all schools offer early action, but if they do, the benefit is extra time that allows you to compare your acceptances and their financial aid offers before making your decision.

Early Decision

Early decision is similar (deadlines are the same) to early action, with one critical difference. If you’re accepted to a college through early decision, you are committed to enroll at that school. By applying early decision, you’re essentially saying, “This is my first choice school, and if accepted I will attend no matter what.” Colleges give special consideration to early decision applicants because of their show of commitment. However, there is one particular drawback.

Financial aid is important to consider when applying early decision. You will have to commit to the acceptance without any financial aid information. Before you choose this option, you should know what percent of your demonstrated financial need will be met and/or if there will be any negotiation available if your offer isn’t what you expected.

Rolling Admissions 

Most schools have specific application deadlines, but some offer rolling admissions. This means there’s a broad window of time in which the college receives applications. Acceptance letters can come based on when you apply, but you still have until May 1 to make your decision. RA applications aren’t binding, so you have no obligation to enroll if accepted.

RA applications are reviewed on a first-come, first–served basis, so spots can fill early. As the acceptances increase, competition for remaining spots gets tougher, so it’s critical to get rolling admissions applications in early. The earlier you apply, the better your chances.

Plan Ahead

It’s important to plan ahead no matter how or when you apply. Review the application policy for each school, keep track of your deadlines, and make sure you’ve compiled all of the documents and information required for your application including GPA, SAT or ACT scores, essays, and recommendation letters.

Don’t wait until the last minute. Consider setting your own deadline ahead of the required deadline so you have a little extra time if you run into delays or difficulties.

All of us at Elite Collegiate Planning wish you the best with your college application process.

Check out our article College Application Types and Deadlines for more information about this topic, and go to our website to start planning for college early so we can help you pay less.


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