Choosing the right college admissions options for you

Choosing the right college admissions options for you | JLV College Counseling Blog

Students applying to college have many different ways to apply to institutions. However, there is some confusion among students and parents about what the different types of options entail. Students can choose between early action, early decision, regular decision, and rolling admission. However, what do all of these options mean? And, are there advantages or disadvantages to choosing one over the other? The decision is really up to the student and their family, but I hope to help explain the options so students can make an educated decision on how they will apply to different colleges.

  • Early Decision (ED). For many early decision schools, the application is due in October or November. Students will typically hear back within a month of their admissions decision. Students can only apply to one institution early decision, but can apply to other colleges regular decision. If the student is accepted to the institution early decision, they must withdraw their applications at all other colleges and commit to attending, sometimes without seeing a financial aid offer. Frequently acceptance rates for early decision are higher than regular admission. However, this does not mean it is easier to get in. Many times, the students who apply early decisions are students who are top students academically with stellar grades and test scores.
    • Apply early, get a decision early. Before applying, make sure this is the college you want to attend because it is a binding contract. The student, parent/guardian, and the counselor all have to sign (usually digitally) they agree to these terms when applying for Early Decision. If you are accepted, you cannot continue “shopping around” for colleges. Research the cost of attendance and financial aid options before applying and only apply early decision if you know you will be able to afford attendance.
  • Early Action (EA). Just like early decision, early action allows students to apply early and get admissions decisions early. Early action applications are non-binding and students can apply to multiple colleges. Although students receive notification of their decisions early, they have until May 1 to choose the college they will attend.
    • Apply early, get a decision early. You are free to continue applying to other colleges and can wait to make your final decision until May 1. This allows you to continue researching the colleges, visit again (if necessary), and compare financial aid award offers.
  • Restrictive Early Action (REA). Just like regular early action, students will apply to a college early and receive the admissions decision early. Many restrictive early action colleges expect students to not apply to other early decision or early action colleges. However, students are able to apply regular decision at other colleges. Students applying restrictive early action still have until May 1 to decide the college they will attend. This allows students to compare admissions and financial aid offers from all colleges before making the final decision.
  • Regular Decision. The application deadline for regular decision is usually later than early action and early decision deadlines. This later date gives students longer to prepare their applications for admission. However, colleges do not offer an expedited admissions decision like early action and early decision. While some colleges give decisions quickly, many do not send regular decisions until mid to late March. Students will then have until May 1 to decide the college they will attend.
  • Rolling Admission. Colleges that offer rolling admission usually open their applications in the fall and continue accepting applications as space permits throughout the summer. While students can apply whenever they want, there are priority deadlines for financial aid and housing. Therefore, students should still apply to colleges offering rolling admission early to improve their chances of admission, financial aid and housing. Most colleges offering rolling admission typically send out admissions decisions within a few weeks of receiving the completed application.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all ways of applying to college. Before making the decision, students should weigh these factors and choose the option that is best for them. Students should also take their time with the application, no matter how they are applying. The application and personal statements are very important in the decision process. Therefore, students should not rush through the process, but take their time to ensure they make no mistakes. Lastly, if applying early decision, I highly recommend students connecting with their school counselor or college counselor to discuss the option because early decision is not for everyone. Counselors may have a little more insight into the admissions process at the college you are applying and may be able to provide a little more information to help you make your decision to apply early decision or not.

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5 Comments on “Choosing the right college admissions options for you

  1. Jessica – I love your blog! Question on early decision. All of us college counselors have always heard this option is dangerous because it is “binding”. As you said, other applications must be withdrawn. I have never understood how this can be “binding” – the college can’t force the student to write them a check?! So how is it, literally, binding??

    • Hi Tamla! Thank you so much for your kind words! I really appreciate it!

      This is such a good question and I should have gone into a little more detail. It is true the colleges cannot force a student/parent to write a check or attend. However, schools/counselors are supposed to instruct students on the binding aspects of Early Decision and make sure the student follows through as well. There are some “rules” in the Statement of Principles of Good Practice from NACAC here:–ethics/statement-of-principles-of-good-practice/ Have I ever seen a college take action because a student pulled out of the Early Decision commitment – no, but it could hurt the relationship the high school has with the college. A lot of it comes down to ethics, and ethically it is seen as wrong since the student and parents signed a contract saying they understood how it worked. With all of that being said, I am not a fan of Early Decision because it is binding. I am a big fan of Early Action since students get their decisions earlier and can take a little longer thinking about the big decision of what one school they will attend in the fall.


      • Jessica – thanks so much for the prompt response! I’m so glad to have the NACAC Statement of Principles! I agree completely with what you’re saying…it is an ethical issue and I’m with you – I usually steer students away from ED but am a big fan of EA. I have never advised a student who chose ED but think I have one this year so will be sure to ask about the contract that is signed by student and parents (didn’t know about the contract). Again, I appreciate your input!

      • Interesting! In my brief career doing this counseling gig, I have mostly worked with juniors. This year I’m at a new school and am working with seniors as well so learning more as I continue to scrape the top of this huge iceberg! My own daughter only applied to one college, was accepted and graduated. One son is a senior currently and mostly only interested in one college – so I learn from others! 🙂

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