Not only are you enmeshed in trying to complete your college applications, presenting yourself to be the best candidate you can be, but you also have to navigate the timeline of when applications are due! Not an easy task. So let’s sort through how you go about this.
Each College Sets its Own Deadline
First and foremost, each college has their own set of application deadlines and varying ways of how you can apply. We will get into that. But also know that a college application deadline is just that, a deadline. You are allowed and absolutely should complete and submit your application way before the deadline, if at all possible. Why is this? The number of applicants a college is going to accept is finite, it is NOT infinite! Why does this matter? If a college says they need to accept 5,000 students and their regular decision application deadline is January 15, by December 30, they may have already accepted 4,500 students and if you apply on January 14, there may be only a few spots left for the college to accept students. What does this mean for you? Apply early, regardless of the deadline!
Now, let’s get back to application deadlines and the various ones that exist. You can’t speak about deadlines without first discussing the varying ways you can apply to a school. Early action, early decision (and there is early decision 1 and 2 for some schools!), regular decision, rolling admission, and priority admission are a list of the many ways you can apply to a college. But, not all colleges have all of these options. Let’s break down what each of these mean and then we will speak about their deadlines.
Applying to a College Early Action
Early Action is when you can apply early (let’s say, November 1) and you will receive your application response early as well lLet’s say, December 15), but this is NOT binding, meaning that you are not required to attend if you get accepted. What does this do for you? I always say that the early bird has the best opportunity to get the worm. It can show a college that you have done your research, are showing interest in their school and are an organized and proactive student, to name a few, and they may be more apt to accept you vs. a student who does not present themselves this way. Not bad, huh?!? There are also other advantages. There are some schools that by applying early affords you a higher acceptance rate than if you apply later in the process.
Early Decision Timelines
Early Decision – yep, you guessed it, is binding. You apply early (let’s say November 1), you will receive your response early (let’s say December 15) BUT if you get accepted, you are contractually required to attend. You (and 1 of your parents) have to electronically sign an agreement stating as such otherwise you cannot submit your application. So, what does this offer you? In this case, even more so than with Early Action, your chance of acceptance can go up significantly, dependent on the school. These statistics are available by school but can vary by year and by school. In recent years, more students are applying to highly selective schools early decision in hopes to gain acceptance, but since the pool of students is getting larger and the number of students accepted remains the same the acceptance rate (percentage of students accepted) for Early Decision has gone down. Not as much as if you were applying Regular Decision, but it still has decreased.
Many schools have implemented Early Decision I (EDI) and II (EDII). What does this mean? Well, the EDI application deadline may be November 1, but the EDII deadline may be January 1. You may ask, why would a school do this? If Joey applied to College A EDI with a deadline of 11/1 and a response by 12/15, and Joey doesn’t get accepted to College A, Joey can then apply to College B EDII by January 1. He will still be in an Early Decision pool, providing a greater acceptance rate than Regular Decision, and then possibly be accepted to his number 2 choice school. Yes, it is still binding. You have to go. Why would schools do this? With Early Decision, they know that if they accept a student they will attend their school and therefore it helps with building their yield (the budgeted number of students that a college has designated that they need to enroll in their freshman class). This is a very important number for budgetary and financial reasons. One item of note, and we won’t get into this in detail, yes, you are financially obligated to attend this school as well if you get accepted. There are some schools that provide some leniency with this, but before you apply Early Decision to any school, check with their policy and get it in writing!
Application Deadline for Colleges with Rolling Admissions
Rolling Admission is pretty much what it says. As you apply, your application will be reviewed and an admissions decision will be issued, all on a rolling basis. So there isn’t a deadline, per se, but again, the early bird always has the best opportunity to get the worm, so, apply early and you will hear early.
Colleges with Priority Admission Deadlines
Some colleges offer priority admissions. When a college states that their priority deadline is November 30, this means that all students who apply by that date will be given priority. You might say that this is similar to Early Action but, it is and it isn’t. Yes, you apply early and you hear back early, but if you apply after the priority deadline, you may not be considered at all. Yep, you heard that one right. A school like Penn State and University of Maryland have priority deadlines and if you are interested in these schools you better apply by their Priority Deadline, or else.
Regular Decision Deadlines
So now that we have covered all of the various ways you can apply to colleges and their associated deadlines, the one that is left is applying Regular Decision. So what is “Regular Decision”? Well, it’s regular. There is nothing special about it. This is typically the latest date to apply to a school, the very last one in the long line to prior dates you can apply. Your last chance, so to speak. My opinion, don’t ever wait until this deadline. Many people have applied before you and, possibly, received their acceptance. Remember, there is a finite number of students a college will accept. If you wait until the regular decision deadline to apply, the number of students who are remaining to be accepted may very well have dwindled. That being said, what is this deadline? You apply by this date and you will hear the latest part of the college application calendar, most probably in the late February/March timeframe. Most colleges have a Regular Decision deadline coupled with one or more of the above options (Early Action, Early Decision…etc.).
So, Let’s Get Back to the General Question on the Deadline for College Applications
Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question. It depends on the school as well as the types of ways you can apply to any one school. Typically, those schools that offer Early Decision only offer Early Decision and Regular Decision. Those schools that offer Early Action offer Early Action and Regular Decision, but sometimes they squeeze in Early Decision as well. If a school offers Priority Admission that is typically the only way a student can apply. And, there are some schools that only offer Regular Decision (Like UConn – At least as of today).
Tips for Honing in on Application Deadlines
Research each school that is on your list and the different ways you can apply to the school. Note the deadlines for each way to apply and how you are going to apply (Hopefully early, regardless – I’m going to repeat myself, the early bird has the best opportunity to get the worm).
Using the above information, work backwards to be sure you apply as early as you possibly can.
Note the following general application deadlines: In general, Early Action deadlines range from November 1 – December 1, but there are some schools where their Early Action deadline is October 15. Regular Decision deadlines typically range between January 1 and February 15. Early Decision deadlines can range from November 1 – November 15. Priority deadlines can range from November 1 – November 30. These dates are NOT hard and fast, and can change each year and definitely vary by school.
Do your research and understand way ahead of time a college’s application dates and deadlines. Create a spreadsheet and keep track of all of the dates so you won’t miss the deadlines of your top picks. And you thought you were going to get a simple answer when you asked your question? Think again!