What Are the Important College Application Deadlines?
High school seniors have multiple deadlines to choose from when applying to colleges.
First are early decision deadlines, usually in November. Students who apply via early decision, or ED, will hear back from a college sooner than their peers who turn in applications later. ED admissions decisions often come out in December.
However, students should note that ED acceptances are binding, says Monica Gallego Rude, a director at Collegewise, an admissions consulting company headquartered in California. That means an accepted student must enroll at the institution.
"People need to be very certain that this is the right choice for them if they're going to pick early decision," Gallego Rude says.
Some schools also have a second early decision deadline, ED II, which is also binding. The difference is in the timelines. ED II deadlines are usually in January, Chu says. And ED II admissions decisions often come out in February.
Early action is another type of application deadline that tends to be in November or December. Similar to early decision, students who apply via early action will hear back from schools sooner. The difference is EA acceptances aren't binding.
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Students can also choose to apply by a school's regular decision deadline, which can be as early as January 1. Students who apply regular decision generally hear back from schools in mid-to-late March or early April.
One other admissions policy to be aware of is rolling admissions. Schools with rolling admissions evaluate applications as they receive them and release admissions decisions on a regular basis. These schools may have a priority filing date, but they generally don't have a hard cutoff date for applications. The institutions continue accepting them until all spots in the incoming class are filled.
In deciding when to apply, as well as how many colleges to apply to, students will want to consider financial aid implications. Experts say if money is a concern, as it is for many families of college-bound students, applicants should choose nonbinding deadlines – EA and regular decision. This will enable families to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools.
Students generally have until May 1 to decide which school they will attend and pay an enrollment deposit.
Which College Application Platform Should I Use?
Students have several options when it comes to college application platforms.
One popular choice is The Common Application, which is accepted by more than 750 schools, including some located outside the U.S. Students fill out the Common App once and can then submit it to multiple colleges.
However, in addition to the main application, Common App schools often have a supplemental section, says Chu. The supplement sometimes includes additional essay questions, so students may need to budget time for more writing, experts say.
For some students, the Common App is a "one-stop shop," says Gallego Rude – meaning they can apply to all of the schools they are interested in with this one application.
But not all schools accept the Common App, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University in the District of Columbia.
Other application options include the Coalition Application, a newer platform accepted by more than 100 schools; the Universal College Application, accepted by 23 schools; and school- or university system-specific applications. For example, the University of California system has its own application – the only platform accepted by UC schools – and students can apply to multiple campuses with one application.
Students can visit a college's website to determine which applications are accepted. Also, the Common App, Coalition Application and Universal College Application websites list their partner schools.
What Do I Need to Know About the College Application Essay?
As part of the application process, most colleges require students to submit at least one writing sample: the college essay. This is sometimes referred to as a personal statement.
"Usually the writing piece on the application feels very challenging," says Amy Jarich, assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions at the University of California—Berkeley. "And that's kind of by design, right. It's a short, tiny amount of real estate for a pretty significant set of remarks."