What Do The Different Decision Plans Mean?
by Dr. Trama - Friday, September 7th, 2012 Admissions & Acceptance

With the new school year getting underway this week, it’s important, if you’re starting 12th grade, that you get to work on your college applications. The earlier you start work on your applications, the better – as procrastination can lead to missed deadlines.

(We’re going to assume that you’ve worked up a list of colleges to apply to at this point. If you haven’t done that, start there. Here’s our post with tips on how to narrow your list down from the thousands of colleges available to you.)

Now that you have your list, it’s imperative that you come up with a list of deadlines of the applications. Many schools will have different deadlines, so if you have a calendar detailing them all, it will be much easier to stay organized as you move forward in the application process.

While you’re looking at deadlines for schools, you’ll notice that some will have different deadlines depending on how you choose apply. If you’re applying to ten schools, each school might have three different deadlines. It’s a lot to keep straight, and it’s important to understand what all the different options mean. We’re going to examine the most common options available.

Early Decision

If you know, without a doubt, that you want to attend a specific college, Early Decision might be an option for you. Note that Early Decision is a binding option; what this means is that if you are accepted to a school under the Early Decision program, you must withdraw all other applications you submitted and attend that college the next fall.

You are not allowed to apply to more than one school under the Early Decision option.

Often, Early Decision applications are due by November 1, but some schools may offer later deadlines, or even a second Early Decision deadline later in the application season.

Early Action

Many schools now offer an Early Action option for applicants in addition to Early Decision. Deadlines for Early Action often mirror Early Decision deadlines, with one major different between the two: Early Action is a non-binding program. If you are accepted to a college under the Early Action option, you are not required to attend like you would be if you were accepted as an Early Decision applicant.

Early Action can be beneficial for students who want to have the most time available to weigh their college options, as many schools will release Early Action decisions in late December or early January.

Regular Decision

Applying to a school under their Regular Decision plan is the most common method. It provides the student with the most time to compile and submit their application materials to the college.

The drawback to applying under the Regular Decision option is that colleges can release their decisions as late as early April, so waiting to hear from that one last school will limit the amount of time a student has in order to make a final decision on which college to attend.

Rolling Decision

Some schools will offer applicants a “rolling” decision option. Rolling decisions are basically regular decision options, but they do not have a strict deadline, though a school may stop accepting applications after a certain date. Generally schools that offer rolling admission will wait to review a student’s application until all parts of the application are received, and then offer a decision within a certain amount of time once the application is complete.

If a school has a rolling decision option, it is a good rule of thumb to apply as early as possible so that you can have ample time to submit all components of the application and still receive a timely decision.

These four options are the most common decision plans that colleges offer to applicants, though some schools may have plans with different twists or names. It’s important to research all options that each college you are applying to offers applicants thoroughly, and to choose a plan that will allow you the best chance at a successful application.

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