Need help sorting out the different ways you can apply to college? Admissions plans include early, rolling, and regular. Each plan has its own timetable regarding when students apply, when students receive decisions, and whether students are required to confirm attendance.  Each plan has its own requirements about whether students can apply early to other colleges, and whether students are committed to attend if accepted (known as “binding”).

REGULAR DECISION. Regular Decision Plans are the most traditional option. Students typically submit an application by January 1 or January 15, and hear by April 15. Students are not restricted from applying to other colleges, and have until May 1 to confirm attendance. Students can receive one of three decisions: accepted, denied, or wait-listed.

EARLY ADMISSIONS. Many colleges now offer early admission plans in addition to Regular Decision. Students apply in the fall (usually by November 1 or 15), and typically receive a decision by December 15.  With early admissions programs, students can receive one of three decisions: accepted, denied, or deferred to the regular applicant pool. Each college has its own policy of the percent distribution of admissions decisions, and policies vary year-to-year based on factors such as institutional goals and prior year’s yield.

Early admissions plans include the following options:

  • Binding Early Decision: students make a commitment to a first-choice institution, and commit to attending if accepted.  ED1 deadlines are typically November 1 and 15.  Many selective colleges offer ED, including most of the Ivy League colleges and small liberal arts schools, such as Barnard, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Lehigh and Pomona.  Increasingly, colleges such as Colgate, Tufts, and Vanderbilt, are also offering an ED2 option, in which students apply by late December or early January, and receive decisions in January or February. While Early Decision restricts a student’s admissions options, ED candidates typically receive a strategic advantage of a higher admissions rate because they have indicated that the college is their first choice and that they are committed to attending. Colleges use ED to help craft their incoming freshman class.
  • Restrictive Early Action: students apply to a top-choice college, are restricted from applying early to another institution, but have until May 1 to decide whether to attend. Examples include Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. Students can apply simultaneously to any college with a non-binding rolling admissions process, as well as any public institution with an early notification program.
  • Non-Binding Early Action: Students apply early and receive a decision early.  Students can apply to other colleges through early admissions plans, and have until May 1 to decide whether to attend. Examples include University of Michigan, Northeastern University, and University of Vermont.  Non-binding Early Action is the most flexible early admissions plan. Aside from the advantage of receiving decisions in December, there is typically no statistical advantage to applying to schools under their early action programs.
  • Early Decision and Early Action. Some colleges offer both Early Decision and Early Action options, such as University of Miami, Colorado College and Fairfield University.

ROLLING ADMISSIONS is a third category of admissions plans. Institutions review applications as they are submitted, and notify students throughout the admissions cycle. Examples include Penn State and Indiana University Bloomington, University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers University. The earlier students submit rolling applications, the more beneficial – unless students wish to strengthen their admissions chances through stronger first quarter grades or standardized testing scores.

See the NACAC chart of Definitions of Admissions Options in Higher Education.