It doesn’t seem fair that most people need a glossary to understand the different types of college application deadlines.

While the types of deadlines aren’t necessarily hard to grasp, they are named in a somewhat confusing way—”early” versus “rolling” or “decision” versus “action.” Then there’s descriptive terms like “restrictive” or “single-choice.”

Here’s a quick and easy guide for decoding these confusing but important terms.

Please Note: We’re discussing college applications deadlines broadly here. The best way to find a specific college’s application requirements is to visit the college’s website or contact the college’s admissions office.

Types of College Application Deadlines

Early Action

Early Action (EA) gives your teen the option to apply early—that is, before the regular decision deadlines. It’s non-binding.

Early Action is great for teens who have their applications prepared early in their senior year. It shows enthusiasm and preparedness to opt for early action.

Colleges will also provide admission decisions earlier to students who apply Early Action.

For example, your teen could get her application in by November 1 and be celebrating her acceptance before the end of the calendar year, months before other Regular Decision students are notified of acceptance.

Watch the deadlines because some colleges offer EA and some also offer EA II, which is another round of Early Action before regular deadlines hit.

Single Choice or Restrictive Early Action

Single Choice/Restrictive Early Action is the same as EA, except that your teen can only apply early at one school. It’s also non-binding.

This type of early action shows the school that it is your teen’s top choice. Each college can have different restrictions, so it’s important to read the fine print.

Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) means your teen applies early and agrees to enroll if accepted. This is the binding one.

Early Decision is pretty similar to single choice early action in that your teen applies early to only one university. It’s different in that if she’s accepted, that’s where your teen is going to college.

It’s a fast and furious application, usually with deadlines in November and decisions in December.

Your teen should only apply Early Decision if she’s absolutely, 110% sure that she knows where she wants to go to college. If the college accepts her, she has already said that she accepts the college.

Note: You might be able to apply for one Early Decision and several Early Actions at the same time. Check on the restrictions for the schools you are interested in. Early Action doesn’t come with any agreements to attend a school, while Early Decision does.

Regular Decision

Regular Decision is the most common type of college application deadline with due dates ranging from December to March (and sometimes later) and college decisions in April. It’s non-binding.

Regular Decision is the route that most people go with applications.

An abundance of colleges offer only Regular Decision.

Rolling Admission

Rolling admission means that there isn’t a hard-and-fast deadline for college applications. The college will accept applications until all spots are filled. Rolling admission is non-binding.

What’s great about rolling admission is that it allows students to apply both before and after the regular decision time frame. The application window could be open as wide as August to August!

Colleges with rolling admissions usually communicate their decisions lightning-fast, so there’s hardly any waiting. On the other hand, when all the spots are gone, usually in April, there’s no possibility of getting accepted.

A further complication with rolling admission is that spots could fill up in certain majors before others, so your teen would need to check with the department as well as the admissions office to ensure there is still space.

To review, here are the four major types of admission with their general college application deadlines.

  • Early Action – Usually start in November
  • Early Decision – November
  • Regular Decision – December-April
  • Rolling Admission – August-August

The two “early” options usually respond in December. Regular Decision schools give you a response in or before April. Rolling gives you a quick decision whenever you apply as long as seats are available.

Remember, always contact a university’s admissions department for specific answers regarding college application deadlines.

Need help with your college applications?

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