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College Application Season – Which Application Track is Right for You?

College application season is in full swing. Larry is busy with his seniors as they work to complete their applications and essays. They must also decide which application tracks to choose in this process. Students and parents should understand all of the options, including the implications and deadlines, in order to determine which plan is most suitable. Here is a general guide to the types of application plans that are now offered at many colleges and universities. Parents and students should always check with each school, and with their college counselor, to understand specific school requirements.


Early Decision: The submission deadline is often November 1st. This is an option to use only when the school is the student’s definitive first choice as this creates a binding agreement to attend if accepted. Students can apply to only one school under an Early Decision plan. Acceptance decisions for “ED” are typically sent in December. If accepted under an Early Decision program, students must withdraw all other applications.


Early Action: The submission deadline is typically from November 1st until December 15th. This plan is used when a student has identified a school as a frontrunner, but not the clear cut top choice. This application type does not create a binding agreement to attend if accepted, so students can apply under Early Action to more than one school. Notifications are sent by mid to late December and accepted candidates have until May 1st to let the school know whether they will attend.


Restricted Early Action (also known as Single Choice Early Action): This is a non-binding early action option with submission deadlines usually in November. Under this plan, applicants may not apply to any other private college or university’s early admission program. They may, however, apply to a public school’s early application program or apply to a foreign college or university at any time, as long as those programs are non-binding. Applicants should check with colleges for their specific Restricted Early Action guidelines.


Early Decision II: This is a relatively new option that is being used by more and more colleges each year. The deadlines for ED II applications are typically between January 1st and February 15th. As with ED I, the student is bound to attend if accepted.


Regular Decision: The submission deadline is typically between December 15th and February 1st (but may be even later) and decision notices are sent in late March and early April.


Rolling Admissions: This application process typically begins in the fall and remains open for many months. Within five to six weeks of applying, students are notified of acceptance or rejection. Deadlines vary widely.


Students need to carefully consider a number of factors when deciding which application track is most suitable. It may be tempting to apply under an Early Decision plan to expedite the process. For those applicants who are sure of where they want to go, this option can be very advantageous. However, some families will want to compare financial aid packages from different schools. Certain applicants may want to include more of their Senior year course work in their application. When formulating a college admissions strategy, it’s never too early to start thinking about the variety of application plans.

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