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

Application Strategy

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.