Application Deadlines and Types: Early Decision, Early Action, Rolling, and Regular
The whole college admissions process is pretty confusing--I don't think anyone would disagree with that statement. Sometimes it's confusing as a result of having to juggle five, eight, ten, even fourteen applications at once; if you don't know what's going on, it can be confusing when you begin assembling all of your financial information to fill out your FAFSA. It can also be confusing when you find out that there are different ways to actually apply to colleges. How many different ways can you apply to college?, you might think. The short answer is there are three different ways. Here's the skinny on each of them.
This is the most common type of application, and the type that people know most about. Applying Regular Decision involves sending out your applications typically around the beginning of January, and you can apply to as many schools as you choose. Admissions decisions are sent out around the middle to the end of March, and deposits are usually due on May 1st.
There are three admissions scenarios with a Regular Decision application: you can either be accepted, rejected, or waitlisted. If you find yourself on the waitlist, read this article and talk to your guidance counselor about a plan to get yourself accepted off the wait list.
Early Decision (ED) is a method of application that you can use for only one college; if you consider applying ED, it must be to your absolute first choice dream college. ED applications are contractually binding, and stipulate that if you are accepted, you will (read: must) attend that college or university. It's a great way of getting your application in earlier, and often times colleges have slightly higher acceptance rates among their Early Decision applicant pools as opposed to Regular Decision. Plus, you receive an admissions decision in December, which can be quite nice.
Early Decision application deadlines are commonly either the 1st or the 15th of November, and admissions decisions are generally sent out a month after. Be sure to check the college's deadlines, if you're considering or will be applying ED.
There are three admissions scenarios with an Early Decision application: either you are accepted (awesome), rejected, or you are deferred. Getting deferred ED means your application will be reviewed again in the Regular Decision application pool. From there, you can either be accepted, rejected, or waitlisted.
Note that there is no easy way to back out of an Early Decision application if you're accepted and decide you don't want to go: nearly all colleges will levy a fine if you renege on your contract, and most often this fine is a full year's tuition. Early Decision is a great method of application if and only if the college you apply to is your unquestioned first choice college.
Applying Early Action gives you the benefit of receiving an early admission decision, just as with Early Decision, but it is non-binding, and you can often apply Early Action to more than one school.
Early Action deadlines are generally the same as Early Decision deadlines, with the exception of sending in a deposit: that deadline is usually the same as the Regular Decision deadline.
There is a subset of Early Action called Single Choice Early Action. The name explains it all: you apply using the Early Action process, but can only apply to one school Early Action, and you cannot apply to a school Early Decision.
Rolling admission is not a form of application, but a way that many schools release their admissions decisions. Instead of releasing admissions decisions on one day, colleges that use a rolling system send out admissions decisions when they are made, on an applicant-by-applicant basis. Rolling admissions is a system used only with Regular Decision applications.
Good luck with your applications!