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It’s basically impossible to start the college admissions process gradually. Practically from the moment you fill in the final SAT bubble, someone is asking you for something. Your guidance counselor wants a list of schools by Friday! Your dream school wants you to schedule a visit ASAP! Your favorite teacher is waiting for you to formally request a recommendation! No matter what the task, deadlines abound during the admissions process. While it’s important to keep track of all of them, none are more important than the actual application due dates. Unfortunately it’s not quite as straightforward as circling a few boxes in your date book (jk, we know you don’t have a date book), and many questions can arise as you begin to compile a list of deadlines. What is the difference between Early Decision and Early Action? Is there really an advantage to applying early? What does “rolling” admission actually mean? Fortunately, we’ve got answers!!
If you are willing to show early commitment to one school in particular, you can apply to that school “Early Decision.” The deadline for this application comes about two months before the Regular Decision deadline, and admissions results come back in early to mid-December, about two weeks before Regular Decision Applications are due. Not all schools offer the option to apply Early Decision, but at schools that do, a growing proportion of the incoming class is drawn from this group of early applicants. Think very carefully before applying Early Decision, as it is a binding agreement. If you are accepted Early Decision, you must attend the school and withdraw all other applications. Students who do not honor their Early Decision agreement can end up in a lot of trouble, so be sure you know which schools require this kind of commitment from early applicants.
In brief: You can only apply to one school Early Decision, so save this option for your dream school.
Early Action is similar to Early Decision in that it requires you to submit applications earlier in the admissions season, and is a way for you to indicate your increased interest in an institution. The main difference is that Early Action is not binding, so you may apply to as many Early Action schools as you like — plus one Early Decision school! An increasing number of schools are offering an Early Action option, which means you will likely have a long list of EA deadlines to meet. So you’ll need to have your personal statement and a whole stack of supplements completed for EA season, usually between October and November 15th.
In brief: Increase your odds of getting into one of your top schools by applying Early Action. You can apply to as many as you want, but make sure to keep an eye on your workload.
Restrictive Early Action is relatively new and probably more complicated than it needs to be. Colleges can have different definitions of REA, so it’s important that you double check with each school you apply to. Generally speaking, Restrictive Early Action resembles Early Action in that it is non-binding, you apply by November 1, receive your decision notification in mid-December, and must accept or reject admission by May 1. Restrictive Early Action differs from Early Action in that you can not apply Early Action or Early Decision to any other private U.S. institutions. So, if you were to apply Restrictive Early Action to Harvard, you could not apply Early Action to Tulane University, but you could apply Early Action to the University of Michigan.
In brief: It’s in your best interest to apply Restrictive Early Action if you’re absolutely sure that it’s your top-choice school, however, applying this way will limit your ability to apply early to other institutions.
Some schools operate on a “rolling admissions” basis, reviewing applications as they are submitted. This gives an advantage to students who submit their applications early in the season, so we encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible!
In brief: Rolling = ASAP!
This is your last chance! This is the deadline you will aim for with any applications that are not submitted early. Give yourself a little breathing room so you’re not crunched trying to submit everything the night before. Regular deadlines usually fall around Jan 1, but we encourage you to submit your applications before December 20th, so you can enjoy your winter break!
In brief: Even schools with Regular Decision deadlines deserve early attention!