November 1st is the deadline for most college early decision and early action applications. But what are Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision in college applications?? And what about rolling admissions? Let’s break everything down and understand what the different kinds of deadlines are, and how you should move forward with your college applications.

Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) is a contract that you, your parents, and your school counselor sign that guarantees that you will enroll in a school if you are accepted. If you apply to your top choice school in the ED pool, that means you are telling the school that if they admit you, you guarantee that you will attend and you waive your right to reject admission and go to another school. Additionally, you must withdraw your active applications to other schools. Early Decision applications are typically due between November 1st and November 15th.

Applying in the Early Decision pool can be a strong strategy for increasing your admissions chances. Typically, admissions rates are higher in the ED pool than in the Regular Decision pool. That being said, the population of students applying ED is self-selecting. That is, everybody else applying ED is probably a pretty strong candidate for the school, given that they have chosen to apply Early Decision and make the gamble.

If financial aid is important to you, please be sure to check in with the university’s financial aid office prior to making any decisions. You can see if they give 100% of demonstrated need or not. If they do, this will ensure that they will give you whatever money you need to attend college. So you can safely make the commitment to attend if they accept you.

If you have a school you are totally set on, and you know you are a strong candidate, applying Early Decision is a great way to prove that the school is your top-choice and will likely increase your chances of admission.

Additionally, some schools offer an Early Decision 2 deadline. Typically this deadline is at the same time as regular decision schools. Let’s say you didn’t get in to your Early Decision 1 top-choice school. You could then choose to apply to another school in their Early Decision 2 pool a few months later, which works exactly the same as the Early Decision 1 pool, except everything is pushed back a few months. This could be an attractive opportunity to submit a committed application to your second-choice school if your first-choice didn’t work out. Early Decision 2 deadlines are typically around January 1st, along with the Regular Decision deadlines.

Early Action

Early Action is very similar to Early Decision. The only real difference is that you are not committed to attending the school if you are admitted. This means that you can get the benefit of applying early, without having to commit to one school prior to seeing all of your acceptances. This is an attractive option that all students should take advantage of at as many schools as possible. Early Action deadlines are typically between November 1st and November 15th.

That being said, there are a few schools like Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, that have a single-choice early action pool. This means that if you choose to apply to one of these schools in their early pool, you are barred from applying to any other private institutions in the early pool. But, you are not required to attend if admitted.

So, in early decision, while you are required to attend if admitted, you can still apply to as many other schools as you want early action. In single-choice early action, you can apply to only one private institution in the early pool, but you are not required to attend if admitted.

One interesting caveat here is that if, for example, you choose to apply to Stanford in their single-choice early action pool, while you cannot apply to other private institutions early, you can apply to public institutions early. That means you could, for example, apply to the University of Michigan (public university) in their non-binding early action pool at the same time as Stanford in their single-choice early action pool. And if you got admitted to both, you would be required to attend neither, and could choose between them freely. But, if you are applying to Stanford in their single-choice early action pool, you cannot apply to other private institutions in any of their early pools. So, you could not apply to the University of Chicago (private university) in its early action pool. You would have to wait until the regular decision pool to apply.

Regular Decision

This is the “normal” application pool that the vast majority of students end up applying to. The deadline is typically between January 1st and January 15th. There is nothing particularly special or tricky about this application pool. Any schools that you cannot apply to early (because you are prevented from doing so because of a single-choice early action application or because you’ve already chosen an early decision school) should be submitted as regular decision applications. You will likely hear a decision in March or April. There are no restrictions on these applications. You are free to accept or reject an admissions offer, and you can apply to as many schools as you’d like regardless of private/public status.

Rolling Admissions

This one is a little unique, but rather straightforward. Basically, the university will offer a long-term range in which they will accept applications, typically starting in fall and ending in spring. Applications are reviewed as they are received. So if you submit your application right at the start of September, you may hear back within a month. Rolling Admissions pools are not restrictive, so you can apply to as many other schools as you would like.

We recommend applying as early as possible if you know one of the schools on your college list offers rolling admissions. Applying early whenever you can is always better than applying later, as there will be more spots available in a class and you will be the first to potentially receive limited scholarship/financial aid funds. Moreover, some rolling decision schools, while not having a hard deadline, will have a “priority” deadline in November or December, which may increase your chances of admission.

Staying Organized

Make a list of all the schools you are applying to and include information about each type of application they offer and the respective deadlines. Then, based on your fit for each school, start to make decisions about whether or not you want to apply early anywhere, what type of early application you will submit, and how that restricts you in terms of other applications. This is a delicate dance, and there is a lot of strategy involved in planning how to apply to each school on your list in order to maximize your admissions chances.

At American College Counselors, we work one-on-one with our clients to advise them on the optimal application strategy based on their unique academic, extracurricular, and social profile. We hope this information was helpful. If you’re looking for more personalized advise, please reach out to us at [email protected] to schedule a free initial consultation where we can get to know each other a bit more.