It’s open season now in college admissions land. The Common Application, used by hundreds of colleges, released its online applicaton on August 1. Private colleges and public universities are slowly opening up their applications as well.
Deciphering deadlines, which ought to be fairly straightforward, can bring applicants to a halt. The traditional Regular Decision filing dates in mid-December or early January may someday become obsolete. Colleges now offer an array of filing options to encourage students to commit, or at least show strong interest, to a college much earlier than in past years. Using their own statistical resources, colleges determine how best to market their particular school. The colleges may use deadlines as a strategy to compete for highly qualified applicants, or to make their colleges available to students who jump into the process late.
Students must decide at the time of filing how and when they want the college to review their application. Early Decision, , Early Decision 1 or 2, Single-Choice Restrictive Early Action, and Regular Decision represent most of the categories a student must select when filing. Some schools, however, have no deadlines. These colleges have rolling admissions and take applications at any time.
Highly selective colleges, including Harvard and Stanford opt for the Restrictive Single-Choice Early Action (REA). REA means that a student must apply early (usually around the beginning of November) and agree not to apply to any other colleges under an Early Action or Early Decison plan. These students would apply to all other colleges under Regular Decision and still have until May 1 to select from all offers.
Early Decision (ED) plans are binding, so students who apply under this plan must agree to accept a college’s admission offer and withdraw all other college applications. A student applying ED must have already done careful research and have a clear front-runner. With few exceptions, ED students cannot apply anywhere else through early programs. Some colleges allow students to still apply to schools with Rolling Admissions (those with no deadlines) or to public universities with limited filing periods, such as the University of California which only accepts applications in November. A small group of colleges offer a choice of two different ED filing dates (E1 and E2).
Early Action (EA) offers a compromise so students can apply early, usually by mid-November, and be rewarded by an admissions decision before winter break. Students can be admitted, declined, or deferred back into the Regular Decision pool. Early Action options are non-binding. Organized students who can get their applications into these colleges, and who aren’t applying anywhere ED or REA, will have several months to decide which school to attend, since a single choice does not need to be made until May 1, 2012. Students have plenty of time to visit or re-visit schools, and are in a good poistion to modify their choices if their career or academic interests change over the course of senior year. Families also can evaluate all financial aid packages and choose the college that offers the most financial incentives. Numerous schools offer EA, including Elon University, Fordham University, and Goucher College.
Colleges with rolling admissions have no firm deadline and usually let students know of admission status within a few weeks of application. Northern Arizona University and University of Oregon are among colleges which admit students until they meet capacity. A school with rolling admissions might offer a Priority Admission deadline, which means early applicants will receive priority review for scholarship consideration, guaranteed housing, or other benefits.
In all cases, a thorough read of application instructions is vital. Students should file as early as possible, even to schools with no firm deadlines. And then let the waiting game begin.