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Understanding the Different Types of College Application Deadlines

Joy Biscornet College Coach

Written by Joy Biscornéton October 1st, 2020

I got my first taste of admissions through my undergraduate work-study at Lafayette College where, in addition to filing a lot of paper, I interacted with students and families as a tour guide and admissions panelist. However, it was only when I was away from a college environment working as a Civil Engineer that I realized how much I missed working with students at this important time in their lives. I spent the first part of my admissions career working at small liberal arts colleges on the East Coast, before joining the undergraduate admission staff at Boston College where I reviewed applications to all four undergraduate programs. After more than a decade working in admissions, I wanted to have more insight into the student experience in the college process. My curiosity took me to Northern California where I worked as a college counselor at Castilleja School, a highly selective private girls high school, helping students apply to the most competitive colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. After my time at Castilleja School, I moved to the Midwest to manage the undergraduate international admission process at a large public university, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I reviewed applications for admission to the College of Engineering. Through these experiences I’ve had the privilege of traveling across the nation and around the world (20+ countries), meeting and working with students and families to share my knowledge and expertise of the nuances of the college process.
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by Joy Biscornét, former admissions officer at Boston College Welcome to college application season, seniors! As you make your college to-do list, be sure to include “Check Application Deadlines” as a task. It’s important to know when applications are due, and it is just as important to understand each type of deadline. Here’s the rundown.
  • Early Action (EA) An Early Action deadline is just that, early. The most common EA deadline is November 1; however, some colleges have EA deadlines in October. Decisions on EA applications are usually posted in mid-December. Students can apply to multiple colleges/universities that offer Early Action. EA deadlines are non-binding, meaning that if you are admitted to an institution Early Action, you are not obligated to enroll.
  • Restrictive Early Action (REA) Also known as Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), REA is EA with a twist. The REA deadline is typically November 1, with notification in mid-December. Students who apply via Single-Choice/Restrictive EA can also apply to non-binding programs at public colleges/universities and international institutions at the same time. Now for the twist: students may not apply to other private institutions via any early program, including Early Decision, Early Action, and any other college’s Single-Choice or Restrictive Early Action. (Note: some colleges that offer Single-Choice/Restrictive EA have wiggle room regarding Early Decision II programs and Rolling Admission programs, but that’s something to look closely at for each institution to which you plan on applying.)
  • Early Decision (ED) The most restrictive of the early deadlines, Early Decision is a binding agreement between the student and the institution, meaning that a student must enroll if offered admission. The key point to remember is that a student may apply to only one college ED. As with other early deadlines, Early Decision applications are traditionally due at the beginning of November and decisions come out in mid-December. If you are admitted ED, throw confetti in the air and buy your college sweatshirt! Your college process is done. Some colleges also offer Early Decision II, which typically has a January deadline. If you were denied or deferred from one college in the first round of ED, you can apply to another college via EDII.
  • Regular Decision (RD) The majority of college applications are submitted for Regular Decision. Students can apply to as many colleges as they choose for Regular Decision, keeping in mind that each application adds to the overall workload. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity in the application process. These deadlines range from mid-November to mid-February. RD notifications usually start to arrive in mid-March with all decisions published by April 1.
  • Priority Deadline Priority is often misinterpreted as just another name for Early Action. While Priority deadlines can be similar in timing to other early deadlines, they are not the same. Institutions that utilize Priority give the most consideration to applications received by this deadline. It is in a student’s best interest to apply by a Priority deadline when offered.
  • Rolling Admission Institutions that practice Rolling admission do not have a set deadline, or have a very late one, perhaps even as late as the summer after an applicant’s senior year of high school. For these colleges, decisions are made on applications as they are received. Many students mistakenly leave these applications to the end to complete and submit applications with earlier deadlines. Do not fall prey to this way of thinking. Since decisions are made on a “first come, first served” basis, submitting an application as early as possible is the way to go with Rolling. This will ensure that your application receive full consideration.
  • Merit Scholarships Deadlines for merit scholarships vary. While many institutions will offer automatic consideration for merit scholarship with the submission of an application for admission, some colleges have a separate deadline. These deadlines can occur before or after the Regular Decision deadline. An additional essay(s) and/or application for merit scholarship is often required when the Merit deadline is after the Regular Decision deadline.
Having a calendaring system in place to keep track of deadlines is imperative in the college application process. Staying organized and working ahead will allow you to submit your applications before each deadline and limit the stress in this process. Good luck! College Application Prep 101


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