Understanding Your Admission Options

By Patricia Gorden Neill - March 19th, 2013

College application can be a confusing process as there are multiple options for applying. Please read this carefully, as high school students need a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Early decision is similar to early action, but with one big difference in that early decision is binding, meaning a student must attend that college if accepted. Here’s a look at your options in applying to college.

Early Decision

With the Early Decision (ED) option, you apply to one college early, usually by November 1st of your senior year. If accepted, you cannot apply to any other college or university. Since a majority of colleges accept more early decision students than students out of the regular admission pool, you have a better chance of being accepted. Usually you will be notified of the college’s decision early in December. These are the advantages of the ED option, a better chance of acceptance by the college, and knowing if you’ve been accepted much earlier than your peers. This would lessen the usual stress of your senior year in high school for sure.

The disadvantage is that you are under contract to attend that college even if you are not offered any financial aid, a decision which is made later. You may not apply to any other college using early application options. If you are not accepted by your ED college, you can still apply to other colleges using the regular admission option.

For academically qualified students, with good grades in rigorous classes, and high SAT/ACT scores who urgently wish to attend their top choice of college, ED can be a blessing, especially if paying the college bill isn’t a concern. Most other students should avoid ED as it locks them into one specific school, not allowing them to apply to any others unless they are not accepted. Students looking into the early decision option should ask their parents’ and guidance counselor’s advice before committing to this course of action.

Early Action

The Early Action (EA) option comes in two varieties. With the EA option, you apply to your number one college by November 1st for many colleges. Some colleges, however, have different deadlines for EA, so check the college you’re interested in. The college then lets you know their decision by middle to late December. The advantage of the EA option is a better chance of being accepted as colleges have higher acceptance rates for early action. Students not accepted under early action can still be considered with the regular admission students. Early action is not legally binding as is the case with early decision. Students can apply early to other colleges. While you will know the decision earlier than your peers, you don’t have to make a decision until May 1. This gives you time to work on the financial aid side of things.

The second EA option is single choice early action (SCEA). Single choice EA has all the advantages of regular EA, but you can apply to only one school early. You are not bound to attend if accepted, but the college gains the knowledge that you definitely preferred their school.

Regular Admission

Most colleges and most students by far go the regular admissions route. Students get their applications in between the middle of January and February 1st. Please check the colleges that you’ll be applying to, however, for their specific deadline for applications. Students find out if they’ve been accepted sometime in April. The advantages of the regular admission option are that students have longer to fill out their applications and they can apply to as many schools as they’d like. The disadvantage is that colleges have slightly lower acceptance rates from the regular admissions pool.

Rolling Admission

Colleges that offer this option will accept applications from students any time during the admission period, generally from September to July. Colleges look at each application when it arrives and makes its decision, sending out letters of acceptance or rejection as soon as the decisions are made. Admission to the college is a first come, first serve basis. Students using the rolling admission option should get their application in as early as possible. Once the college has accepted all the students it wants for that class, no other applications are considered. In other words, if students apply later, their chances of acceptance are lower and it is less likely they will be considered for financial aid.

Late Admission

Many colleges and universities have a late admission policy as well, with deadlines between July and August. A disadvantage of this option is that once a college has all the students it wants for the incoming class, no other students will be accepted. Students should apply as early as possible even for late admissions, the earlier the better. Contact the college first and find out if they’re still accepting applications.

Open Admission

Online schools and community colleges offer open admissions, meaning if you have a high school diploma or a general education development (GED) certificate, you’ll be admitted. Many students who didn’t do well in high school attend community colleges, some for technical career training and an associate’s degree, others to get good grades and transfer to four year colleges to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

The above are the major admission options. Students might run into other admission terms, however, but they are generally special cases. Some other admission terms include:

Early Admission

Exceptional students with an excellent academic record are allowed to take college courses even before they’ve graduated high school. These students can earn college credits and earn their degrees more quickly than their peers.

Early Evaluation

Students who apply using the regular admission option can request early evaluation. Applications must be submitted earlier than the regular admission deadline; students find out if they’ve been accepted in March rather than April.

Deferred Admission

A deferred admission means that a student has applied to a college and been accepted, but they wish to defer their enrollment for a year. This is also called a gap year, where a student takes a year between high school and college to travel, work, volunteer or apply for internships to explore career options.

In summary, students should study these various admission options to see which particular option might work best for them. For the majority of students, the best bet is to get all their college applications in by Thanksgiving of their senior year. This tactic will give them a good chance for being accepted and the best opportunities for applying for scholarships, grants and other financial aid.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.