Updated: Jan 29, 2022
**If the college admissions process isn't stressful enough, there are a few variations on admissions deadlines that you can use when applying: Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED), Regular Admissions, and Rolling Admissions (RA). Because Amanda's blog post last year is just so dang cute and informative, we've decided to not reinvent the wheel. However, we have updated this post to make it current to any admissions changes, included an FAQ section below, as well as a handy table full of college application deadlines for your reference. Remember, each admissions timeline has its own utility, so whatever you do make sure to researched colleges extensively and speak to either your school counselor or college counselor about any EA or ED plans. Enjoy!** - Shawnie Leaf
FAQ College Deadline Spreadsheet
As a senior in high school, I remember hearing a lot of new vocabulary surrounding college applications. My school counselors, teachers, peers, and the internet were talking about things like "early decision vs early action" as if I knew what that meant. Even worse, some people had already decided where they were going to college, and I hadn't even begun my application. Was I behind??? I thought applications were due in November? WHAT IS HAPPENING!
Does that sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. The college application process and all of the different early decision and early action programs can be tough to remember, and I really like hamburgers, so I decided to create a menu for you to choose from. Here's what's on the menu for deadlines this fall! Make sure to check out this fun infographic to keep forever and refer back to for reference. It truly is the meat of the content. Get it? Ha, okay, let's do this. For a quick summary- scroll to the bottom for a cool infographic on the bottom of the page. And for those people who prefer to watch a video, we've linked to the webinar we hosted about this topic below as well.
College deadline types
Regular Decision Policy
The classic deadline. The equivalent of a Big Mac.
This is the deadline I thought of when I thought of completing "college applications." and is the one that students typically apply for. These are the applications that are due at the end of November, December, and January. This application takes into account any standardized testing score through the fall, and some applications take your first-semester senior year grades into account. It is a non-binding application and is a great choice if you feel like your scores and grades could use an extra boost from test scores your senior year.
Although California State University (CSU) campuses and University of California (UC) campuses only accept applications on the Regular Decision timeline, they don't take your senior year grades into account and they also do not factor in any SAT/ACT scores for your admission!
You'll be notified by April 1st of the admissions decision.
Rolling Deadlines Policy
First-come-first-served with a side of "apply early"
When a school has "rolling deadlines" that is like a green light flashing saying "APPLY EARLY!" The earlier you apply, the better your chance of acceptance, because the admissions committee takes applications on a first-come-first-served basis, rather than waiting for a deadline for every single applicant at once. In order to have the best chances of acceptance, apply mid-August.
A great benefit of rolling admissions deadlines is that colleges may still be accepting applications through July. If you don't get into your top schools, and it's April or May, check the universities with rolling admissions. They will most likely still be taking applications, and if you're a top applicant, you still have a good shot. Definitely take a look at their website to see if you can still apply!
More good news: you'll know about the admissions decision 2-3 weeks after applying.
Early Action Policy
The application that leaves room for seconds.
Early action is tricky, and should not be confused with "Early Decision" (see below). "Early Action" means you apply in November or January. It depends on the school, so check on each individual deadline. The catch? You can't send any grades or test scores retroactively. Whatever you send in the fall is what they will use to admit you, since they will be sending you an admissions decision early, and you are able to accept it early if you want to.
Although Early Action has the same acceptance rates as Regular Decision, the benefit of it is that you are able to have more time to decide which school you'd like to attend. You'll know the decision from the admissions office sooner than Regular Decision, and you will be able to take some time to mull it over and see what other acceptances come in.
Hot tip: Apply Early Action to your top 3-4 schools. It is so gratifying to know where you stand with your top choices early! But DO NOT apply Early Action if you want to include a strong academic fall semester or take the December SAT/ACT.
Why apply Early Action? You'll have your decision around Christmas and can still apply to some Rolling & Regular deadline schools with these decisions in mind. In most cases, you don't have to commit to a college until May 1st, so you'll have plenty of time to decide.
Restrictive Early Action Policy
The "you CAN sit with us, but only us" burger.
These deadlines typically happen around November, and - you guessed it- are more restrictive than any other deadline. How? Colleges that have Restrictive Early Action may not allow you to apply Early Action OR Early Decision to any other colleges. If you are interested in an application like this, please check the school's website, because each school is unique.
If you decide to go this route, you'll know the admission decision by Mid-December.
Early Decision Policy
The dreamboat burger.
If you apply Early Decision, you are committed to the school if you get in. Yes, it is a legal obligation, even if you are not offered a financial aid package and can't afford the school. Since it's a binding agreement, you can't compare different financial aid offers from other schools and therefore have reduced financial aid opportunities. Early Decision is a big decision for a family. Only apply for Early Decision if the school is your first choice college!
Early Decision applications are due in November or December, and you will hear back in mid-December or early January.
Regardless of your application, you will hear from all universities on their decisions by April 1st, or before. You will have to commit to the school you're attending by May 1st.
Is Early Decision better than Early Action?
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. While Early Decision boosts your chances of getting into a college, it does so at the detriment of being able to compare financial aid offers between colleges.
Does Early Decision Increase My Chances of Getting in?
Yes, colleges will typically admit more of their applicant pool that applies early decision (see MIT admissions rates). However, there is a downside
Does Early Action Increase my chances of getting in?
Is the Early Deadline really binding?
In general, it's considered to be a major ethical violation. While colleges won't pursue you in court if you try to back out, trying to break an Early Decision may have other serious repercussions. For instance, if you've applied to multiple schools as Early Decision, Restrictive Early Action, or some combo of EA and ED, one college may call the other ones and have your application revoked at all of the colleges.
Is it a good idea to apply early action?
Applying EA or ED is a personal (and in the case of ED, a family one as well). Do you have all of your materials ready and can put just as strong of an application together with less time? Yes, then maybe you should consider ED or EA. Do you need another semester to help illustrate strong grades and/or an improved SAT/AC score? If yes, perhaps you should wait. Typically students that apply ED or EA have strong academic records in comparison to their application peers. Students who need a more holistic review of their college applications may be better served by applying during the regular deadline.
College Deadline List
Here are the deadlines for the top 30 colleges that our students typically apply for Early Action or Early Decision.
Case Western Reserve University
College of Charleston
Colorado State University
John Hopkins University
Loyola Marymount University
Mount Holyoke College
New York University
Ohio State University
Southern Methodist University
Texas A&M University
University of Cincinnati
University of Dayton
University of Illinois- Chicago
University of Kentucky
University of Miami
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
University of New Hampshire
University of Redlands
University of San Francisco