College Tips - Decision Deadlines


Applying to college is both exciting and stressful. With so many requirements and deadlines, it's often difficult to keep track. Many schools offer various application deadlines throughout the year. Today we will discuss the main differences between the three deadline options: Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision. There is no right or wrong answer in which one you choose. Just do your research and select whichever option (or options) work best for you. 

Early Decision (ED)

Early decision means you are applying early (go figure)! The typical deadline for early decision is November 1, sometimes November 15. You will likely receive your admission decision by the end of December. Early decision plans are binding, meaning if you are accepted to the school, you must attend. So do not apply early decision unless you are 100% positive that is the school you wish to attend the following year, no matter what (including the price tag). Likewise, do not apply early decision to multiple schools or you will find yourself in an unhappy contractual conundrum.

Early Action (EA)

Early action also requires you to apply early, usually with similar deadline dates as early decision, but is a non-binding agreement. You will receive your admission decision early, but do not have to make your final decision until the common response date of May 1. In other words, if you want to get all your applications completed and decisions received before the holiday season, but are not positive which school you want to attend, this is the route for you.

Regular Decision (RD)

The regular decision process allows you to apply by the published deadlines for each school. The most common RD deadlines are January 1 and January 15, but this does sometimes vary from school to school, so pay attention. I advise making a calendar of important dates and deadlines so nothing sneaks up on you. You will most likely receive an admission decision in March or April, with your response required by May 1.

Things to Note

ED I vs. ED II

Some schools now offer ED I and ED II dates. Essentially, they are the same. Both are binding and require an early application submission. However, ED II deadlines are pushed a bit later (usually January) than the November deadline of ED I. This is beneficial if you, again, know which college you 100% want to attend but are unable to make that earlier ED deadline.

Financial Aid

If you apply early decision you are essentially accepting whatever financial fate the school throws your way. The decision release date comes much earlier than any financial aid decisions, so you are tied into the contract no matter what financial aid you may or may not receive. If finances are a factor to consider for you and your family, look toward early action or regular decision rather than early decision.

Don't rest on an early decision acceptance

While it would be ideal for you to be accepted into your top school as an early decision applicant, be aware that this might not happen and plan accordingly. Have a list of other schools you might attend and prepare those applications should the outcome not go your way. This will save you a ton of stress, tears, and sleepless nights.


Sometimes you might receive a deferral decision. If you receive a deferral as an early decision or early action applicant, it means your application is being bumped to the regular decision pool. It's not a denial (yay!), just means they need to review your application along with the regular decision applications. All you need to do is hold tight and move forward with your other applications. You could always write a note to the admission team thanking them for reviewing your application and voicing your eagerness to still be considered for admission in the regular decision wave. If you received a deferral as a regular decision applicant, the committee probably needs some more information, like senior year grades, prior to making a final decision. Be sure to pay attention to what they need and send it their way ASAP.


If you are waitlisted at a college it means your file has been read and, while they liked your application, you're not at the top of their list. You may come off the waitlist if those accepted do not choose to attend, or you may remain on the waitlist indefinitely. In other words, you are a backup, a second string. There is really nothing further you can do in this situation other than wait and see if anything changes on the school's end. I suggest moving forward with the decisions you have, assuming you will not come off the waitlist, and cross that bridge should you get there.

Which Should I Choose?

Ultimately, this decision is yours. If you know for sure, without a single doubt in your mind, which school you want to attend, go for early decision and see where the chips fall. If you have a few schools in mind, but want to finish all your applications prior to the holidays, shoot for early action and enjoy the rest of your senior year. If you want to take your time throughout your senior year to work through the applications, regular decision is a fine option. Whatever you decide, stay on top of deadlines and manage your time so you don't end up with a mad rush toward the finish line.

As always, we are here to help! If you have any questions or want someone to look over your applications, do not hesitate to reach out. Best of luck and happy applying!