Introduction to the Application Process and Timeline for US and UK Universities

This video will provide you with a helpful overview of the application process and timeline for US and UK universities. After watching, you will know the 5 Key Commonalities between US and UK university applications . The Dyad Video Library will serve as your passport as you navigate the challenges of applying to university.

Common Misconceptions About the Admissions Process

Description: In this video, the former Regional Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago will discuss the following three common misconceptions about the admissions process:

  • 1.) I must avoid embodying international applicant stereotypes
  • 2.) There are secret rules regarding the admissions process
  • 3.) The most highly ranked school is the best school

Holistic Admissions

Admissions officers read applications knowing that that while strong test scores and grades often correlate with successful graduates, grades and scores alone do not predict who will be a happy and/or successful alumni. American universities have a reputation for excellence because the quality of the student is examined within the context of how they will contribute to the undergraduate college.

Think about it this way: most colleges have a symphony orchestra. If a college were to only accept students with the highest grades, they couldn’t ensure that they would have enough violins, violas, trombones, french horns, and percus-sionists to play Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Therefore, admissions officers ask to evaluate the skills you possess outside of the classroom.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment, and imagine three students applying to a Highly Selective University:

Student 1: 690 Math, 720 English. 96% average.

Involved in cancer research at a local university, therefore doesn’t have much time for activities at school. Teachers say she “is one of the most focused students in the school.”

Student 2: 790 Math, 700 English. 90% average.

Volunteers at a nursing home and is has won numerous regional cello competi-tions. Teachers say he “is quiet in class, but always keen to help others.”

Student 3: 650 Math, 800 English. 88% average.

Captain of the soccer team and has started her own tutoring company which em-ploys 5 classmates. Teachers say she, “is a natural leader, although occasionally misses homework assignments due to her busy schedule.”

Which student would YOU admit? The one with the strongest overall grades, or a star musician, or the entrepreneur? These are the types of decisions admissions officers must make when building a class, and many times officers do not agree with one another. Sometimes a student is put to a vote, and everyone in the room (usually 3 - 5 officers) will weigh in on what qualities will be needed that year to fill a healthy, happy, well-balanced class.

So what should you do to better your chances? To borrow a term from economics, “Diversify your portfolio.” Try to think outside the box. Ask questions in class. Follow your curiosities and read books for pleasure. Start a blog. Create something new that you are proud of. Volunteer in your community. Join a less popular club or team. Not only will this help you stand out in the crowded admissions field, but it could help develop new passions that you didn’t know you had.

Finally, remember that this process is not only about rankings. As we can see from the three imaginary students above, colleges are not only concerned with numbers. When researching schools you should take many things into consideration, including if they have a strong orchestra or soccer team. Because while the main focus of college is classroom learning, perhaps the most valuable thing you’ll gain from an international college experience is a network of diverse and interesting friends who are leaders, researchers, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

Applying Early

Let’s get this out of the way up front: applying early provides a distinct advantage to students applying to college. Many early admissions programs have ac-ceptance rates that are roughly double or triple that of regular admissions deadlines. Therefore, if you are serious about attending an American university, you should be applying somewhere early.

The three types of “early” admissions plans require you to apply in October or November and often provide a distinct advantage that you will find out your deci-sion earlier (usually in December), therefore leaving you more options and less stress.

Early Action Plans:

  • You can apply to multiple early action colleges.
  • You have until May 1 to decide where you want to attend.
  • You can apply to other colleges during the Regular Decision deadlines.
  • You can decline the offer anytime before May 1.

Single Choice Early Action

  • The same as Early Action above, but you can only apply to one Single Choice school.

Early Decision (ED) plans:

  • You can only apply to one ED college
  • If accepted, you must go to that college. You sign a contract that binds you this agreement.
  • Sometimes there are two early deadlines, called ED I and ED II.
  • You can still apply to other Early Action colleges, but if you are accepted to your Early Decision school you must withdraw your other applications.

Why do colleges ask students to apply early? There are many reasons, but here are a few:

Convenience. Some selective colleges are processing 20,000 - 30,000 applica-tions a year. By getting students to apply earlier, the office has more time to sort and read this influx of materials.

Competence. When students apply early, it gives a clear signal to a college that the student is organized and has the strong work ethic and planning skills to complete tasks in a timely manner.

Confidence. Here’s a not-so-secret part of admissions: colleges want to show-case their desirability. So the higher number of students they admit who end up matriculating is known as the “yield rate,” and universities spend lots of time and money trying to improve their yield. And students who apply early attend that col-lege at a much higher rate. For example, a college with an Early Decision program knows that every student they admit will attend, which makes for less guesswork when they are trying to build a balanced class later in the year. For students admitted to Early Action programs, many are so excited and relieved to finally be accepted to college that they don’t bother applying to any other schools.

So when you are looking at building your college list, you’ll want to strategize on what is the right program for you. Schools like Yale and Stanford are “Single Choice Early Action,” which means you can ONLY apply to one of these schools early, thus diminishing your chances at the variety of other excellent schools with less restrictive admissions policies.

Application Policies: Early Action, Early Decision, Rolling Admissions, and Regular Decision


If you're reading this blog post right now, you're thinking about applying to a college. This is the first step in a series of decisions that will come your way during the application cycle. Hopefully, this blog post will help make some of those other decisions a little bit easier. This blog is the first in a series of two pieces written to introduce you to some key terms in the American college application cycle: Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, and Rolling Admissions. A second blog post will focus less on the details behind these different application policies and instead provide you with some tips on how to choose the one that best fits your needs.

I. Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions is a policy in which candidates can submit their applications to a university during any time within a specific window of dates. Usually, you can receive a decision relatively quickly, though your only options are to be accepted or denied.

The great thing about it is that you can submit your application when you’re ready—whether that is in September or February. There’s also something really nice about having a shorter waiting period and being able to make a decision quickly on the institution of your choice. But, unfortunately, it isn't offered everywhere. It is also always recommended you apply early to ensure there are still open spots when you receive your decision.

II. Regular Decision

Regular Decision is what we tend to think when we first envision college applications. The institution will set a final deadline. You must abide by it in order to receive an admissions decision. Note, however, that not all schools will have the same application deadline. Make sure to keep track of each school and its requirements separately. Typically, the decisions that are involved with regular decision are straightforward. You can be accepted, wait listed, or denied.

Why would someone choose to apply regular decision? In some cases, this is the only choice available to an applicant. In other cases, the applicant wants to show their growth during senior year with higher grades, a more difficult curriculum, and solid recommendations from a senior year teacher. Of course, the one downside is that with only one deadline, everyone applies at the same time and competition can be fierce during the review process (though not as fierce as in Early Decision).

III. Early Decision

Under Early Decision (ED), you can only apply to one ED school. ED assumes you know your top choice school and would definitely matriculate if accepted. As a result, some institutions will let you apply in a round that happens before the regular decision timeline. Not all schools have this option, but those that do make the decision binding. If you are accepted, you would be legally bound to matriculate. Of course, some schools will make exceptions for financial circumstances, but it can be difficult to get out of an early decision contract. Do note that you can be deferred from ED. Your application would just be forwarded to a regular decision round; if you are denied, though, you'd have to reapply next year.

IV. Early Action

Early Action is a lot like ED, but it is not binding. If accepted, you can wait for regular decision results from other schools before choosing whether to matriculate. It also comes in two flavors: 1) unrestricted and 2) single choice. The first one means that you can apply to any other early action school; you are not restricted to apply only to one. Similarly, you can apply rolling and regular decision. BUT, if you apply to a single choice early action school, you can only apply to ONE. You can still apply to rolling and regular admissions at other schools! Just not to other early action schools.

I hope this post has given you more insight into some key terms. However, nothing replaces careful research. Please always check in with the admissions office of your schools if you have any questions. And, if you're wondering how to decide which of these options is better for you, check out my other blog on this same topic.


Key Takeaways:

You now know the 5 Key Commonalities found in US and UK university applications:

  1. Transcript
  2. Standardized Test Scores (SAT / GRE / GMAT, etc.)
  3. Essays (Main Essays and Supplementary Essays)
  4. CV (summary of academic and professional experiences
  5. Recommendation Letters

And remember – some universities may even require an interview!

Test scores are NOT the most important part of your application

  • A great application is not built overnight – the sooner you get started the better
  • Showcase your leadership, initiatives, and proactive contributions
  • Universities use rolling admission – submit your applications as soon as possible

What’s My Next Step?

Including the correct components and nailing down the right timeline for your applications is key. Success is possible through excellent mentorship – Let a Dyad Mentor guide you through the process.

For more information on the application process and timeline, contact the Dyad Enrollment Team Contactcontact