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Breaking Down Decision Plan Options

The first big deadline of the application season is 3 weeks away and seniors around the country are busy filling out applications and diving into the variety of essays required to be ready to submit by the looming November 1 deadline. This may feel early to the casual observer, but a large percentage of applicants choose to pursue colleges’ Early Action or Early Decision deadlines. Still, the majority hold off for either Regular Decision or take advantage of a school’s Rolling admission. Here is a primer on the pros and cons of these deadline options.

Early Decision deadlines are usually November 1 – December 1 and students choosing this option are committing to attending the college if they are accepted, and can only apply to one ED school. They usually find out in December or January and must withdraw all other applications and accept the offer of admission.


o Most colleges will report that students applying ED have an edge in admissions, due to the commitment the student is making to the school.

o Receiving an early answer allows students to conclude their admissions process and they can relax the rest of their senior year, knowing where they are going to college.

o For those who are not accepted, they have the full Regular Decision cycle to continue applying to other colleges.


o Applying ED prohibits applying Early Action to many of other schools, requiring a regular decision application. This varies by ED school, so students should check the requirements of their ED school.

o This year, with the FAFSA not being available until December, they may or may not have a financial aid package available to help them decide. If finances are a concern, it may require a phone call to admissions to discuss the grace period they may offer as they await this information.

Early Action deadlines are similar to ED deadlines, usually November 1 – December 1 (there are a few October 15 deadlines). There are no limitations on the number of EA applications a student can submit. They usually receive an admission decision in December or January.


o Because they get an answer early, students will know all, or many, of their college options early, allowing them to relax the rest of their senior year, while not being required to accept an offer until May 1st.

o Some colleges will give admission preference to early applicants, partly due to the smaller number of applications being considered during that phase.

o Some colleges require an early application for merit scholarship and honors college consideration, so for those who may receive one, it is in their best interest to apply early.

o For those who are not accepted, they have the full Regular Decision cycle to apply to other colleges.


o If applying to multiple schools, students have A LOT to do in the fall to be ready to submit. This option works best for students with a clear idea of the schools on their list and who feel relatively organized.

Single Choice or Restrictive Early Action involves an early deadline, such as November 1, and while it is not binding to the school, students are not allowed any other early applications.


o Like ED, this commitment does tend to give students and edge in admissions, while not requiring the commitment.

o Like ED and EA, students receive an admission decision early.


o Not being allowed to apply EA elsewhere means waiting until RD if the student is not accepted to their REA school, and not receiving admission decisions until much later.

Regular Decision – These deadlines are typically in January or February and these applications are reviewed after the ED/EA apps for the remaining spots in the freshman class


o These deadlines give students more time to build their college list, compile their application materials and complete essays.

o If a student needs to improve their GPA, they have first semester of their senior year to affect a positive change before applying. The same is true for improving test scores. Cons:

o Most admissions decisions are not made until March or April, so students have a longer time to wait to find out.

o Some schools require an early application for scholarship consideration. Students should check with all of their schools and if they feel they would qualify for the merit aid, and an early application is required, they may want to attempt to submit that one early.

Rolling – This is offered primarily by large public universities, who will make an admission decision within a week or two of receiving the application. The deadline for submitting is loose, often into the summer after high school.


o Finding out about acceptance quickly allows students to know they have a place to go to college as they await the longer-term decisions.

o This works well for students who, for a variety of reasons, may not have been ready to submit earlier.


o The longer a student waits to apply, the less chance they have to receive financial aid and merit aid. They may also be late to the game of reserving a room in a residence hall, providing fewer options.

Early Action II and Early Decision II – these deadlines tend to be between ED/EA and Regular Decision. They allow colleges to process applications in waves. They work much like their earlier counterparts, with ED II students agreeing to a commitment to the school.


  • The later deadlines allow time for those who need the extra time to build their lists and complete applications.


  • Students should be careful that they are not missing out on merit aid or honors college opportunities with an earlier deadline.

As with most things college-admissions related, it is always best practice to check with the admission, financial aid and scholarship pages of each of the colleges on your list, for details on how they approach each of these deadline options. Starting in the spring of junior year or at the latest, summer before senior year, will allow most students time to decide which option works best for them, and prevents the possibility that an opportunity is missed due to lack of prepartion.


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