July 10, 2024

Understanding College Application Deadlines: Pros, Cons, and More

Summer is underway and most students are enjoying a well-deserved break from school work to pursue sports, hobbies, summer jobs, travel, and more. Still, these hot summer months should not distract from one key fact—the start of college admissions season is right around the corner. Most colleges and universities will begin accepting applicants for the next academic year starting August 1st when the Common App opens.

Yet, many students and families are confused by the various dates and deadlines of this period. Is there a difference between Early Action and Early Decision? What does it mean to apply before the Regular Decision deadline? What is meant by Rolling Admissions?

In this blog, we’ll try to answer some of these questions and give you some peace of mind. We’ll explain what each of the application deadlines mean as well as their pros and cons. We encourage you to supplement this quick guide with an in-person visit to one of our Class 101 advisors for more information.

Early Action

Early Action” is one kind of college application process where students are typically able to submit their applications by October or November so they can hear back on if they have been accepted as early as December or January. Applications for early action are non-binding, meaning students who apply during the period are not bound to attend them if they are accepted. 

This process has several key advantages. First, by applying early, students can hear back on their applications early as well. This can mean more time to consider offers if accepted and more time to focus on other, regular decision applications if rejected. It also means less pressure—if you know you are guaranteed entrance to at least one school, you can worry less about other pending applications.

Also, unlike Early Decision, there’s no limit to how many Early Action applications you can submit (more on that later).

However, Early Action requires early preparation. Students need to have their forms, essays, and transcripts together far earlier than other applicants. Early Action also does not necessarily give students a higher likelihood of admission compared to other early application processes, meaning the value is purely one of timing. Finally, some schools with “restricted early action” may try to restrict students from applying to multiple early action programs. 

Students should read the application requirements of the school they are applying to to ensure they understand the commitments involved.

Early Decision

Early Decision” is much like Early Action. Students submit their application materials by October or November to hear back on their admissions status by January. There is, however, one critical difference—students who apply Early Decision are bound to attend that school if accepted. While they can apply for other schools, they must withdraw those applications if accepted and usually send a nonrefundable deposit after they are accepted.

In addition to the benefits of hearing back early (and the reduction in stress that offers for the remainder of the school year), Early Decision signals to schools that a student is extremely interested in their first-choice college.  This can, in some circumstances, make a student a more compelling applicant and lead to higher rates of acceptance, though specific rates vary by school.

However, Early Decision can involve an intense preparation and decision-making timeline. There are also major drawbacks to Early Decision relating to the power it gives the college or university. 

Students can only apply Early Decision to one school. Students are bound to attend if accepted. They cannot compare financial aid offers from other institutions where they might have gotten accepted. For this reason, students may want to research the financial aid policies of the school before they apply.

Students should think carefully about whether to apply Early Decision. While it can be valuable if students have one school they are set on attending, it may limit options elsewhere.

Regular Decision

Regular Decision” is exactly what it sounds like—applying through the regular process. Students generally submit their application materials no later than early January (though specific deadlines vary by school, with some schools having deadlines as early as December or late as March), with offer letters sent by March or April, and a deadline of May to accept.

The vast majority of students apply through Regular Decision and it is the process most likely to be recognizable to parents.

The biggest “pro” for regular decision is that it gives students more time to prepare their application materials. Instead of scrambling in October to get together letters of recommendation and application essays, students can mold their applications over an extended period. They have more time to make their application as strong as it can be instead of stressing to get everything as done as fast as possible. 

Regular decision also carries with it no binding requirements or obligations. Students can apply to multiple schools and consider all the responses they get back, assessing which university gives the best financial aid offers and is most aligned with their needs.

However, as Regular Decision is when most students apply, there can be additional competition for admission. This, combined with the later notification of admission status, can cause some anxiety for students and families who are determined to get into one school. If students are accepted, there may be less time to plan for things like housing and additional scholarships, as availability might be limited by the time the university sends the offer letter.

Rolling Admissions

The final form of application deadline is called “Rolling Admissions,”  which means colleges evaluate applications as they receive them then release decisions over a long period of time instead of all at once. This is a unique process within U.S. higher education. According to U.S. News & World Report, only 143 colleges offered rolling admissions in Fall of 2023.

The advantages of this process are clear: Rolling admissions give students additional flexibility for students to plan for college and also reduce stress. Instead of planning for a strict deadline, students can submit their materials when they are ready. This means that students who submit early can often hear back early and those who apply late have a last-minute “fall-back” option. 

The process for Rolling Admissions is also often less strict, as applications are reviewed as they come in.

However, these same qualities come with drawbacks. While the process for rolling admissions is less competitive, there are often fewer slots available overall. Financial aid and housing may be limited as students who apply earlier receive acceptance and rewards. There can also be less time to compare offers, as Rolling Admissions colleges often require students to confirm their attendance soon after the offer letter is sent.

In short, Rolling Admissions offers some opportunities but can introduce new stress for students as well.


These four application deadlines—Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, and Rolling Admissions—define much of the college application process. 

While some schools will open up their application systems as early as next month, students and their parents should take their time to think critically about the options available to them and which is the best based on their individual circumstances. As thrilling as the summer vacation can be, it is never too early to start thinking through these questions now.

We encourage students and parents interested in learning more to reach out to a Class 101 College Advisor near them today. Having helped countless students across the country, we have the expertise you need to make your college application process simple and stress free.

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