Most of the 4000 colleges in the U.S. offer four different types of college application deadlines, each with different dates and policies: Regular Decision (RD), Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED), and Rolling admissions (RA).
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Most of these application options have strict deadlines (unless rare circumstances happen like the application systems crashing – which happened in the UC system just last year).
Less selective colleges may offer rolling admissions with a range of time within which a student must apply.
Beginning in Junior Year, it’s important to carefully research each school’s application deadlines and requirements. Some early action (EA) programs place restrictions on applications to other colleges.
In addition, early decision (ED) is a binding contract in which you commit to enrolling if admitted to that college under the ED plan, unless in some unique cases the financial aid offer is untenable – you could be released from the contract after appealing.
The most common regular decision deadline is January 1. January 15 is also a frequent college admissions deadline utilized by the top colleges. One major exception to these January deadlines is the University of California (UC) system.
The UCs are especially early with their application deadline of November 30. Some other top colleges, like the University of Michigan, give regular decision applicants a little longer and have a February 1 application deadline.
When Are Early Applications Due?
When strategically applying through the early action (EA) or early decision (ED) plans, you need to give yourself plenty of time to compile your transcripts, recommendation letters, personal and supplemental essays, and any required standardized test scores (even with test-optional policies).
All of your application materials take time to complete and request, so if you’re applying under any of the early plans – start the process at least six (6) months in advance during your junior year.
Early action (EA) pushes both your deadline and notification timeframes earlier in the year. The most common EA application deadlines are November 1 and November 15. If you apply early action, you’ll be notified in December.
You might hear back even before your regular decision applications are due. Under EA plans, you could be accepted, denied, or get deferred. Getting deferred means that your application is moved into the regular applicant pool for review.
Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Notre Dame have restrictive or single-choice early action application deadlines that do not allow you to apply to more than one early action (EA) school. Early action application deadlines do not require you to accept.
Like regular decision plans, you have until May 1 to decide and submit your deposit. Early action allows you to gather all your acceptances and then compare financial aid offers, which isn’t an option if you apply under a binding early decision application deadline.
The binding agreement with an early decision (ED) is the main differentiation from early action (EA). Otherwise, the deadlines and notification dates are similar. Applicants might apply by November 1 or November 15 and hear back in December.
Some colleges also offer Early Decision II. This second round of early decision (ED II) still involves a binding commitment, but it pushes the college application deadline a couple of months forward into January.
Since early decision II (ED II) applications are put on the fast track, you'd hear back sometime in February. Most colleges and universities send out notifications on a fixed schedule during the annual application cycle.
When Are College Transfer Applications Due?
The timing of the transfer process can be confusing, so if you’re applying to transfer to a highly selective school, make sure to keep track of your deadlines, so you have the opportunity to enroll for the academic year and semester you are first eligible to transfer.
Again, some schools like the University of California (UC) system have only one transfer deadline for the year. Generally, the transfer deadlines are between March 1st and May 1st for the fall term and between October 1 and November 15th for the spring term.
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What Happens If My Application Is Late?
Late materials hurt your chances of getting accepted or eliminate you from the applicant pool altogether. Application platforms like the Common Application and the Coalition Application restrict your access to the portal after the deadlines.
Some colleges with rolling admissions actually have priority application deadlines in November or December. Even if the school you apply to with rolling admissions doesn't have a priority deadline, it's a good idea to set one for yourself and get your application in as early as possible.
Rolling admissions are done on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition to increasing your chances of admission, the sooner you apply, the better your chances.
Key Points for College Application Deadlines
Regular decision deadlines are generally in January and have a March or April notification.
Early action deadlines are generally in November and a notification in December. Remember that some schools require single-choice early action.
Early decision application deadlines are binding – you agree to enroll if you get accepted. Early decision deadlines might be in November and/or January and normally have a month notification turnaround.
Keep track of your deadlines, beginning with the earliest and most restrictive, so that you can use each plan and application deadline to your advantage.