The chart below offers some general guidelines with respect to the timing of various admission plans. Note: There is considerable school-to-school variation on the timing of plan deadlines and notification. Please check the colleges’ websites for full information.
Timing/Plans: Early, Regular, Rolling
Early decision (ED) plans allow you to apply early (usually in November) and get an admission decision from the college well in advance of the regular decision notification date (usually in mid-December). ED decisions are considered binding, which means that if you apply as an ED candidate you agree to attend the college if it accepts you and offers an adequate financial aid package. Although you can apply to only one college for early decision, you may apply to other colleges under regular admission. If you’re accepted early decision at a school, you must withdraw all other applications.
Many schools offer two rounds of early decision, Early Decision I (generally November deadline, mid-December notification) and Early Decision II (generally January deadline, mid-February notification). The second round is designed and timed to allow a student to apply to a “ second first-choice school” after hearing from their initial first-choice school. Both rounds are considered binding.
ED candidates in either round will receive one of three decisions: acceptance, deferral, or denial. Those denied admission in either round will not be reconsidered during the regular season.
There is considerable school-to-school variation on the mechanics of early decision plans, so please check the colleges’ websites for full information.
Early action (EA) plans are similar to early decision plans in that you are asked to submit your application early (usually in November) and can get an admission decision from the college well in advance of the usual notification date (usually in mid-December). However, unlike early decision, most early action plans are non-binding, meaning you do not have to commit to a college to which you’ve been admitted early action. Under some EA plans you may actually apply early to other colleges; under others, generally referred to as “single-choice” or “restrictive” early action, you may NOT apply early to any other school (this does not include rolling admission, see below). In both cases, you are not required to make a commitment until the May 1st notification date, allowing you to compare offers of financial aid before making a decision.
EA candidates will receive one of three decisions: acceptance, deferral, or denial. Those denied admission under early action will not be reconsidered during the regular decision process.
There is considerable school-to-school variation on the mechanics of early action plans, so please check the colleges’ websites for full information.
Regular decision or regular action refers to the standard application option at most colleges, wherein students can apply to any number of schools simultaneously (usually by early or mid-January, though there are colleges with open deadlines into the spring) and retain full freedom of choice once decisions are rendered. Students are generally notified of admission decisions by early April and are asked to respond with a commitment by May 1.
Regular decision candidates will receive one of three decisions: acceptance, denial or waitlist. Those denied admission will not be considered for the waitlist.
Rolling admission refers to plans in which applications are reviewed in the order they’re received, and applicants are admitted on a space-available basis. We strongly encourage students to apply to these colleges as early as possible in the fall of their senior year, as admission will get increasingly competitive as spots in the incoming class dwindle. Bear in mind that applications will not be read until all materials are received by the college.
On-line vs. paper
Unless a college specifies that they prefer one method of submission over the other, you can safely assume that neither is preferred. Many schools do prefer to receive the initial biographical forms on-line, just so that they don’t have to enter that information by hand. At most schools, however, it is fine to send your initial forms on-line and the rest by paper, or of course to submit all materials in one mode or the other. The important thing is to choose what works best for you. If, for instance, you feel limited by aspects of on-line submission, you may find that the paper version of an application gives you a little more freedom and control—to go on a bit longer, or to tailor your responses or formats in a more personal style. Whichever way you choose, just make sure you heed the essential spirit of the instructions given by that school.
Many schools now accept the Common Application, although there are still a number that don’t. Should you use the Common App where permitted? The obvious advantage is that it can save you a considerable amount of time. The disadvantage is that your applications to very different schools can easily sound approximately the same, which will detract from the admission reader’s sense that you are informed about and interested in their particular college. So here’s what we recommend: where there is little distinction between a college’s own application and the Common App, go ahead and use the Common App, but take the time to personalize and individualize your submission to each school. If a college’s own application looks really different from the Common App, we recommend using the college’s own application. Either way, the important thing is that you thoughtfully and genuinely convey your interest in and knowledge of each of your colleges.