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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

Understanding College Application Deadlines



Types of college admission deadlines

Colleges and universities offer a range of application deadlines. Some schools offer only one option, and others offer several.


Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each type of application deadline will help you determine your best strategy.




Rolling Admission (Rolling)

  • Applications can be submitted as early as Aug 1st if applying through the Common App, and sometimes sooner if applying through a school’s own application or other available platform

  • Rolling admission is non-binding, meaning the student does not have to attend if accepted

  • Rolling admission often stays open through the spring of the application cycle (or sometimes into the summer), so it can be an option late in the season for students who do not receive the results they were hoping for from other schools

  • Applications sometimes do not require essays or recommendations

  • Schools often return decisions within days or weeks of submission

  • Applying early in the application cycle can ease stress when a student receives an early acceptance

  • Keep in mind that merit aid can sometimes be depleted relatively early in the season, so early application submission should be considered


Early Action (EA)

  • Applications are typically due Oct 15-Nov 15th

  • Decisions are sometimes returned within weeks, and sometimes as late as Feb. Schools will often post their decision date ranges on their websites

  • EA is non-binding, meaning the student does not have to attend if accepted

  • Merit aid is sometimes more readily available to EA students than to Regular Decision (RD) students, and special programs (honors and scholars programs, for example) may have EA deadlines as well. It may be more beneficial, therefore, to choose EA over RD when possible


Early Decision (ED)

  • Applications are typically due Oct 15-Nov 15th

  • Decisions are often returned Dec-Jan. Schools will often post their decision date ranges on their websites

  • ED is binding, meaning that if accepted, the student must rescind all other applications and attend the ED school unless the family is unable to pay the cost of attendance quoted by the school

  • Some schools will offer an ED alongside EA with similar deadlines

  • At most schools, ED acceptance rates are higher than EA or RD rates, sometimes significantly so

  • Only a small number of public universities offer ED. It's much more common among private institutions. 

  • To apply ED, the student and parents will typically be required to sign an affirmation that they understand and will abide by the terms of ED. The student’s high school will also verify that the family understands the terms. 

  • Students may only apply to one ED school at a time, but may simultaneously apply to EA and RD schools. If a student is deferred, waitlisted, or denied from the ED school, the ED agreement is no longer binding, and the student can apply to another ED school (typically a school that offers ED2, which has a later deadline than ED1)

  • ED is best suited for students who have a favorite school and can afford their expected financial contribution toward the cost of attendance


Restrictive Early Action (REA)

  • Also sometimes called Single Choice Early Action (SCEA)

  • A small number of highly selective schools offer REA, and those schools only offer RD as another option.

  • Deadlines are usually similar to ED and EA deadlines

  • Decision dates vary, but can usually be found on the school’s website.

  • REA is non-binding, meaning the student does not have to attend if accepted

  • Each school that offers REA will have restrictions on which other types of applications a student can submit while awaiting the REA decision, so it’s very important to understand the school’s REA policy. 

  • In some cases, the acceptance rate is higher than RD, and sometimes the main advantage is an earlier decision

  • Students should only consider REA over RD if they feel they have a very strong application. Students who want to include first semester senior year grades, additional test scores, or growth in extracurriculars may prefer to apply RD


Regular Decision (RD)

  • RD is offered at the vast majority of colleges and universities, with the exception of some Rolling schools

  • Deadlines typically range from Dec 1st to late spring

  • RD is non-binding, meaning the student does not have to attend if accepted

  • Acceptance rates can be lower than other acceptance types, and merit money, housing preference, and special programs may be affected by waiting until RD. This is not the case at every school, however

  • The advantages to RD can include having: 

    • The opportunity to include first semester senior year grades, additional test scores, or growth in extracurriculars

    • The freedom of a non-binding/non-restrictive option (at schools where REA or ED is the only alternative to RD)

    • The option to apply to schools in the winter or spring, if early round decisions from schools are not favorable


Once you have your college list, you can examine the application deadline options for each of your schools and determine your best strategy. At Growing2College, we're happy to assist you in the college search and selection process, as well as the application process.


Request a free 20-min consultation to learn more about how we can be helpful.


Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    



Contact info for Kate Pedigo, Growing2College

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