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Articles / Applying to College / College Application Deadlines: The Pros and Cons

College Application Deadlines: The Pros and Cons

Written by ACT | July 30, 2021
Photo Credit Getty Images

Early Decision vs. Regular Decision and Rolling Admissions

Should you apply early or wait for the regular deadline?

Historical data shows that the acceptance rate is higher for applicants who applied early decision and early action than for those who applied regular decision to the same schools. Before you decide when to apply, you should consider all the advantages and disadvantages of applying early versus applying regular decision or rolling admissions.

What is Early Decision?

Applying to a school early decision means you apply to your first-choice school before the regular decision deadline and most other applicants. You will also receive an admissions decision early. Early decision is binding, which means you are committed to attending a school if you aplly

Early Decision Deadlines:

Early decision deadlines are usually in November or December.

Advantages of Early Decision:

  • Your application will be seen by admissions officers sooner
  • You’re competing with fewer applicants
  • You’ll know sooner if you got accepted

Disadvantages of Early Decision:

  • You can only apply to one early decision school
  • If accepted, you must attend
  • You cannot compare financial aid offers

What is Early Action?

Early action means that you can apply to a school before the regular decision deadline, and get an answer earlier than most students. Unlike early decision, early action is not binding. If you're accepted to a school early action, you're not committed to attending.

Early Action Deadlines:

Early action deadline commonly fall in late November or early December

Advantages of Early Action:

  • Your application will be seen by admissions officers sooner
  • You’re competing with fewer applicants
  • You’ll know sooner if you got accepted
  • You can apply to other schools simultaneously
  • You don’t have to accept until later
  • You can compare other financial aid offers

Disadvantages of Early Action

  • If you’re not accepted, there’s little time to submit to regular application deadlines at other schools

What is Regular Decision?

The term "regular decision" refers to the main application deadline for most colleges and universities. You may submit your applications before that date, but schools do not submit applications after the deadline. Most colleges have regular decision deadlines early in the new year for students who want to start in Fall.

Regular Decision Deadlines:

Most 4-year colleges and universities have a regular decision application deadline in January or February.

Advantages of Regular Decision

  • More time to submit applications and achieve higher ACT scores for additional scholarships
  • If you’re undecided about where to go, this will give you more time to think it over
  • No pressure to commit early, if accepted
  • You can compare your financial aid offers from other colleges

Disadvantages of Regular Decision

  • You will not hear back from colleges until later in the spring
  • This is a busy time of year for you with graduation plans, exams, and other commitments on top of applications
  • Everyone else is submitting their application at this time, so it might be harder to stand out

What is Rolling Admissions?

A college or university that offers rolling admissions accepts, reviews, and responds to applications as they are submitted. Instead of waiting for an application deadline to begin reviewing applicants' materials, schools with rolling admissions offer a window of time when apps can be submitted, and accept, reject or waitlist students on an ongoing basis.

Rolling Admissions Deadlines:

No deadline for rolling admissions. Apply anytime in a 6-month window

Advantages of Rolling Admissions

  • The earlier you submit, the earlier you’ll hear back
  • If you’re accepted, you’re not obligated to attend the college or university
  • If you’re not accepted at early or regular decision colleges, then there’s a possibility a rolling admissions college is still accepting applicants

Disadvantages of Rolling Admissions

  • The longer you wait to apply, the harder it is to get accepted

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