LAUNCH co-founder and Guidance Coach Sara Bittner explains the differences between the different application types available at American universities.
When looking up the application deadlines for a college or university, you will come across the terms Early Decision (I or II), Early Action, Rolling admission, and Regular admission. Choosing the right way to apply can significantly increase your chances of gaining admission (but remember admission is never guaranteed), but you need to know what you are signing up for when you apply.
Applying Early Decision is, quite frankly, the ultimate indicator of demonstrated interest.
When you apply Early Decision, you are obligated to accept any offer of admission the university extends to you. If you cannot be certain that a university is financially feasible for your family, we usually do not advise this option because you would not have the choice to turn down the spot if the financial package is insufficient. However, if a student is set on a specific university and has been for quite some time, this can serve as a big stress reliever, as ED applications have an answer much faster. In fact, universities may (again not guaranteed) admit students that would not get in during the regular admission period. The only difference between ED-I and ED-II is the deadline, and the university will have already filled part of the class in ED-I, so by applying ED-II, an applicant is competing for a more limited number of places. Some ED schools will let you apply to other schools Early Action, but knowing these nuances requires in depth research of admission policies.
Early Action (EA) applications are similar to ED in that you apply early; however, you can apply to as many colleges or universities as you want, and the decision is non-binding. This means if you are accepted, but cannot afford tuition with the financial package they offer, you are free to look elsewhere. If a university offers an early option, it will either be ED or EA, but they usually do not offer both. Applying EA is a great way to communicate to a college or university that they are your top choice, and if you are accepted, you will almost certainly attend. Again, another way to demonstrate interest without visiting campus. There is an exception to EA in a process called Restrictive Early Action (REA), which many universities use. With an REA application, you are only allowed to apply to one university EA. EA and Restrictive Early Action applicants have until May 1 to make their decision.
When you apply Regular Decision, it is as the name suggests, regular. There is no limit on how many schools you can apply to, and acceptance into a university is completely non-binding. If you are applying regular decision after not being accepted in a previous ED/EA application, you still have the advantage of having demonstrated interest by applying early, and will have a slight advantage over students who did not apply early. Regular Decision deadlines are usually between January 1 and February 1 of your final year of secondary school, and you will receive a decision by April 1. A student then has until May 1 to decide which college they will go to. Although applications are due between January 1 and February 1, admissions offices read those applications as soon as they come in, so by applying well before the deadline, your application still stands a better chance than the one sent in 2 minutes before the application period closes.
Rolling admission is basically Early Action and Regular Decision rolled up into one. Students are free to apply at any point during the application period, and will typically hear back from the university in six to eight weeks. A student has the chance to demonstrate interest by applying early in the period, at which point they have less competition with other applicants, and the university has more spaces to fill. By waiting until the end of an application period, a student will be competing with more applicants for fewer spaces, so if a university has had an unexpected uptick in applications, their freshman class might already be close to full, at which point they can choose to be more selective. If a university offers Rolling Admission, it is a good idea to apply as early as you can to maximize your chance at getting in and receiving a quality financial aid package. The one point of difference of Rolling Admission and EA/Regular Decision is that you only get one chance to apply, so you will want to be sure you have all your application’s requirements finalized and no questionable grades in your current courses.
At LAUNCH, we coach our clients into prioritizing their college list and guiding them in an application strategy that works best for them. We can anticipate potential weaknesses and recognize the strengths in their applications and come up with a plan that reduces the impact of the former while maximizing the impact of the latter. If you would like to #dreamlaunchsoar with us, feel free to contact us.