As high school seniors begin their college applications for fall 2014 admission, there are sure to be many confusing aspects in the process. One that seems like it should be straightforward – application due dates – can add to the confusion with the number of choices available. Options include regular decision, early decision, restrictive early action (also called early action single-choice), early action (non-restrictive), and rolling admissions.
Why so many options? Will it make a difference when you apply?
The simple answers: because it serves the colleges’ purposes and yes, it can make a difference which application deadline you choose.
Regular decision (RD) and rolling admission are the easiest application deadlines to understand and navigate. There are no restrictions regarding applying to other colleges when choosing either of these two deadline options. Colleges using RD programs have clearly stated deadlines, usually but not always in January or February (for example the University of California system has a November 30 regular decision deadline and University of Washington’s is December 1), and students receive their decisions in the spring. The students have until May 1 (the National Candidates Reply Date for admission) to accept an admissions offer from a college.
Rolling admission means the college reviews completed applications on an on-going basis and renders decisions on a continual basis throughout the admission cycle. Usually colleges will estimate the turn-around time on a completed application from about four to six weeks.
There are three ‘early’ programs which require students to apply early in the fall of their senior year. One of the benefits for the early programs is that the student will find out early, usually late December or mid-January, if they have been admitted. However not all ‘early’ programs are the same so it is important for students to understand the differences before checking that early deadline box on the application.
As with any choice there are pros and cons. Early Decision (ED) is a binding commitment. The student may apply to only one college ED because they are in essence saying “If you accept me, I will attend.” Usually the student, parent and high school counselor all sign a document which states they understand the ramifications of making an ED choice, that the student will attend if admitted and withdraw all other applications upon acceptance. The ‘pros’ here are that some colleges admit a higher percent of the ED applicant pool and the admitted student’s decision of where to attend has been made, reducing the spring angst around college-decision time. The ‘cons’ are that the student isn’t able to compare financial aid awards and that they have to be ready early in their senior year to commit to one college. Usually the only way to withdraw from admission under an ED program is for financial aid reasons.
The two Early Action (EA) choices allow students to apply early in senior year, find out early if they have been admitted, but still have until May 1 to make their college selection. The ‘pros’ here are that students can wait to compare financial aid and admission decisions from other colleges and they have a longer time frame to make a college commitment. The ‘cons’ are that many students want to use their fall grades (or achievements) to boost their applications but the deadline dates are before that information is available. Also, it takes a good deal of organization to get their applications off early in the senior year and some students just don’t have enough time to complete the process.
The difference between the two EA programs is that colleges using Restrictive Early Action (REA) put limits on allowing students to apply to other colleges under early plans. Each college using a REA plan will state specifically their restrictions. Under regular EA programs a student many submit applications to multiple colleges using EA deadlines.
Each student’s situation is unique when it comes to applying to colleges and choosing which application deadlines are the best for options for them. However the one point that holds true for all applications is don’t miss the deadline!