Mastering Application Deadlines for Colleges: Your Comprehensive Guide for 2023-2024

looking at different application deadlines
Uncover our comprehensive guide on application deadlines for colleges in 2023-2024. Learn about early decision, early action, regular and rolling admissions

Mastering Application Deadlines for Colleges: Your Comprehensive Guide for 2023-2024

Published October 9, 2020 | Last Updated August 25th, 2023 at 07:22 pm

Uncover our comprehensive guide on application deadlines for colleges in 2023-2024. Learn about early decision, early action, regular and rolling admissions
looking at different application deadlines

Understanding College Application Deadlines

Choosing where a student wants to apply for college is only half of the battle when it comes to admissions. It is equally important for a student to understand and choose when they want to apply to a school.

College application deadlines are the specific dates by which prospective students need to submit their applications. They play a vital role in organizing the admission process and ensuring timely responses from universities. These deadlines can range from early fall to late spring, but it’s crucial to know precisely when they occur to avoid last-minute rush or even missing out.

Beginning the Application Journey

College applications typically open for the upcoming fall semester during the summer, often in August. To allow ample time for thoughtful essay writing and proofreading, students should start working on their applications as early as possible.

During the college admissions process, students have a choice of submitting applications based on different deadlines: Regular Decision, Early Action, Early Decision, and Rolling Admission. It’s important to know the differences among these deadlines.

1. Regular Decision Deadline (RD)

Regular Decision is the most popular choice due to its inherent simplicity compared to other deadlines, regular decision applications do not have to be submitted until the beginning of the year, most commonly January 1st.

This deadline allows applicants to apply by a specified date and receive decisions by a specific date, usually in the spring. RD offers ample time to perfect applications and compare multiple schools, but acceptance rates may be lower than ED or EA. Selecting the right RD college necessitates a careful balance between ambition and realism.

Students may apply to as many colleges as they would like through Regular Decision and it is a non-binding application, meaning if a student is accepted to one of the schools they apply to, they are not required to attend and are free to choose one of the other schools that accepted them.

One downside of applying to a school through Regular Decision is that since it is the most common time for students to apply, there will be many more people vying for a small number of spots as opposed to applying earlier when fewer students have sent in applications.

Key Points of Regular Decision

  • More time to work on applications and improve grades and test scores
  • Apply to as many schools as you want
  • Non-binding application
  • Harder to get accepted as more students apply
  • Students may be more stressed out not knowing where they’re going to school until the spring

2. Early Decision Deadline (ED)

Early Decision is a binding application process wherein students commit to attending the college if accepted. While the ED option can increase chances of acceptance, it also limits a student’s ability to compare financial aid offers from multiple colleges. Therefore, choosing the right ED college involves a careful evaluation of the institution’s fit and affordability.

The opposite of Regular Decision, Early Decision allows students to commit to their top school much earlier in the fall, with most application deadlines either November 1st or November 15th.

Since the Early Decision application deadline is much sooner than Regular Decision, students may not have as much time to work on their application, or would have needed to begin working on applications earlier in the summer.

Applying to a school’s Early Decision requires lots of thought and preparation from the student as it is a binding application meaning whichever school you apply to, if accepted, must be the school you choose to attend. As such, students are only allowed to choose one school to apply to Early Decision.

Since applying Early Decision is a binding commitment, fewer students apply compared to Regular Decision, and therefore the acceptance rate during Early Decision is noticeably higher, even to top universities.

Finally, some colleges have what’s known as Early Decision 2, where the same rules of Early Decision apply, but your application is not due until the beginning of January. This may be the perfect option for students who still need time to work on their applications, but are comfortable committing to a school.

Key Points of Early Decision

  • Requires more forethought and preparation in the summer
  • Apply Early Decision to only one school
  • Must attend the school if accepted
  • Higher acceptance rates
  • May relieve stress knowing you have been accepted to college by early winter
  • Early Decision 2 is an option at select schools
  • No incentive from schools to give financial aid packages

3. Early Action Deadline (EA)

Early Action is a non-binding process which allows students to apply early and receive admission decisions ahead of regular applicants without committing to attend. It offers the benefit of increased chances of acceptance and more time to plan for college. Still, EA may result in reduced preparation time. As with ED, choosing the right EA college requires a thorough investigation of what the institution offers.

For Early Action, applications, like Regular Decision, are non-binding and students are allowed, in most cases, to apply to as many schools that have Early Action as they want. Early Action also gives students more time to look over and compare any financial aid packages they receive from schools.

Some higher-tier schools such as Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton offer what is called Single-Choice Early Action, which is the same as Early Action, but you are only allowed to apply to them and can’t send an Early Action application to any other school.

Similar to Early Decision, Early Action often has slightly higher acceptance rates, however, unless it is Single-Choice Early Action, the differences between regular decision aren’t much.

Key Points of Early Action

  • Requires more forethought and preparation in the summer
  • Apply to multiple schools
  • Non-binding
  • Slightly higher acceptance rates
  • May relieve stress knowing you have been accepted to college by early winter
  • Single-choice early action is an option at select schools
  • More time to review financial aid packages

4. Rolling Admission Deadline

Under Rolling Admission, colleges review applications as they arrive and make decisions throughout the admission cycle. This flexible schedule can be beneficial for late applicants but may also lead to highly competitive periods. Finding rolling admission colleges usually involves searching college websites or contacting admissions offices directly.

For Rolling Admission, it is important to apply as soon as possible since the school will begin filling up spots and reject students purely due to space restrictions and not academic ability. A student’s chances of being accepted may also be greater than normal if they apply early. 

If your student has any colleges on their list with Rolling Admission, be sure your student prioritizes them first and submit them right away. 

Key Points of Rolling Admission

  • Requires planning ahead
  • Apply to multiple schools
  • Non-binding
  • Slightly higher acceptance rates if students apply earlier
  • Quicker turnaround times may relieve stress if you get accepted quickly
  • More time to review financial aid packages

5. Instant Decision

Many high schools and colleges hold “Instant Decision Days,” where representatives from various schools (generally not the most selective schools) meet with prospective freshmen and offer them the opportunity to sign up right there and then.

Even though this offering up of college admissions on the express lane can be looked at as a marketing tool, for students who are interested in any of the colleges that provide this option, we say go for it! For those students who do not want to wait and stress about admissions, this could be a good path as well.

Keep in mind there still can be deadline commitments about when your student needs to respond back.

Keeping Up with Application Deadlines

Finding the application deadlines for various colleges can be done through the institutions’ websites or our search site R2C Insights.. Staying on top of these deadlines involves diligent organization, regular check-ins, and setting reminders.

What If Your Student Misses a College Application Deadline?

In case a deadline slips by, options may include contacting the admissions office for possible extensions, looking into schools with later deadlines or rolling admissions. Enhancing your chances of admission post-deadline could involve highlighting any new achievements or providing compelling reasons for the delay.

Is Early Decision Really Binding?

Is Early Decision binding? Yes. Can your student get out of Early Decision once they’ve been accepted? Maybe.

When a student decides to apply Early Decision the student, their school college counselor, and their parents, must all sign a piece of paper indicating the family understands that if the student is accepted, he/she will attend. This document isn’t necessarily legally binding, but it is ethically binding.

If your student “breaks” their commitment to attend a school that accepts them Early Decision, there’s a chance other schools may find out and not accept the student too. Some high school college counselors may decide to not send high school transcripts to other colleges once a student has been accepted Early Decision.

The one exception to the above is if a family determines the financial aid package does not make it financially feasible for them to pay for the Early Decision school.

Families should be able to estimate their costs by using the net price calculators (NPC) on the college’s website, but if the financial aid offer is different than the results of the NPC or because of other financial issues the financial aid package is not sufficient, a family has the right to decline the Early Decision acceptance.

Can Students Apply Early Decision and Early Action at the Same Time?

In most cases, students can apply to only one college Early Decision and as many schools Early Action, all at the same time.
 
The exception to the above is if a student is applying to one of the schools that only have Single-Choice Early Action. This would be the case for students applying to Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.
 

20 Colleges with Both Early Decision & Early Action Deadlines

NameStateOverall Admit RateEarly Action Admit RateEarly Decision Admit RateRegular Decision Admit Rate
Miami UniversityOhio89%98%95%70%
Case Western Reserve UniversityOhio30%- 36%30%
Elon UniversityNorth Carolina78%78%89%77%
Union College (NY)New York47%62%61%37%
Marist CollegeNew York60%-79%60%
Ithaca CollegeNew York78%95%95%67%
St. Olaf CollegeMinnesota47%78%48%32%
Macalester CollegeMinnesota27%58%49%30%
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteMass
60%72%77%33%
Wheaton College (MA)Mass77%90%76%67%
Stonehill CollegeMass68%-88%67%
Northeastern UniversityMass18%-51%17%
Clark UniversityMass48%-
-
--
Babson CollegeMass25%32%38%15%
Centre CollegeKentucky76%-88%76%
Wabash CollegeIndiana62%-94%46%
University of MiamiFlorida28%27%65%27%
Fairfield UniversityConnecticut56%90%87%31%
University of DenverColorado63%-38%63%
Chapman UniversityCalifornia60%73%48%52%

Data based on 2021-2022 Common Data Sets
View the full list of colleges that offer both early decision and early action deadlines.

 

What Is the Application Deadline for Most Colleges?

College deadlines most often fall between November and February, but a majority of colleges have a January 1st application deadline. Only a small percentage of colleges offer early decision or early action.

According to the data in our R2C Insights search site, of 2179 four-year colleges, 259 or 12% offer an early decision deadline and 224 or 10% colleges offer early action.

The college application deadlines generally mean you must have your application postmarked by that day – it doesn’t necessarily have to be received by then. 

If you missed the normal deadline of January 1st, there are colleges with later application deadlines. The College Board keeps a list of colleges that have application deadlines after January 15th and later, which is not too late to apply and still enroll next fall.

Something else to keep in mind is that many colleges continue to accept applications past their deadlines. NACAC keeps a searchable lists of colleges with openings for students to look through if they are still interested in attending college, but other schools have stopped accepting applications.

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Which Admission Deadline Should Your Student Choose?

The number one factor in determining which admissions deadline to choose is simply which ones are offered by the schools you are interested in. 

Secondly, analyze the situation you are in. If you are hoping to get financial aid and need time to compare what each school’s financial aid offer, don’t apply during the Early Decision window. Instead, give yourself the time to look at all that’s being offered and the opportunity to apply to as many schools as possible. 

If you have your mind set on a single school and believe there is a chance you can get in, then try applying there during Early Decision or Early Action when the acceptance rates are highest.

There are numerous situations, each with their own outcome, but the key thing is to think of all the factors that are affecting you and make your decision based on that.

Conclusion

Achieving success with college applications involves early preparation, careful research, and strategic decision-making about the types of deadlines. Tools and resources, like common application portals, college websites, and R2C Insights can provide valuable assistance. Above all, remember that deadlines are just the beginning of your college journey. Make every effort to apply on time, but also know that many paths can lead to your desired destination.

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