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Different College Application Options and What They Mean

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For students and parents seeking a competitive edge in college admissions, exploring application options can offer unanticipated advantages. These benefits may be marginal; however, it is always wise to familiarize oneself with each university's procedure.

Application deadlines and types can vary by school, so ensure that you understand what options your top choices offer, as well as their particular details.

Early decision

Early decision is ideal for students who have already decided exactly where they wish to attend college. Most schools accept early decision applications in November and issue potential acceptance letters by January. This can allow you additional time to enjoy your senior year and begin preparing for college instead of worrying over applications.

Early decision is binding at most universities, meaning if you are accepted, you must attend. You can only apply for early decision at one school, and you will not have the opportunity to compare scholarships between multiple colleges. Typically, if you are not accepted, you can still be considered for regular admissions.

Early action

Early action is similar to early decision. Most application deadlines are in November, and you will receive your potential acceptance letter in or near January. However, early action is not binding. You still have the opportunity to compare potential scholarships and to wait until the spring deadline to decide. Although it depends on the school, acceptance rates are often higher for early action when compared to regular admissions. If you are not accepted, you can also still be considered in the regular admissions cycle.

Regular admissions

There may be benefits associated with early decision/early action, but you will have less time to complete your application. Most regular decision applications are due by January, which permits you several additional months to take the ACT/SAT again, augment your application with extra-curricular activities, and polish your essay. The deadlines vary, but most schools will distribute acceptance letters in February or April.

Rolling admissions

Certain colleges utilize a rolling admissions process where you can apply any time during a specific window. You will likely receive a response within several weeks of applying. These universities do not set hard deadlines and they accept applications as long as seats are still available. Generally, your chances are better earlier in the process because more seats are still open, and competition increases later in the process. There are also hard deadlines for scholarships that you may miss if you delay.

Open admissions

Open admissions refers to institutions that accept all students who completed high school. Other open admissions policies require students to maintain certain GPAs and test scores. These programs can be excellent options for individuals with lower GPAs and SAT/ACT scores, and you may be able to transfer to another school in a short timeframe.

Deferred enrollment

Schools may allow you to defer your enrollment a year. If you are accepted, you do not attend the following fall and instead wait one year. Students who hope to travel, explore internships, save money for college, or determine their major may wish to explore this option. If you wish to take a year off after high school, it is best to complete your applications during your senior year, or you may forget the material on the SAT/ACT.

Deferred/waitlisted applications

If you apply for early decision/early action, you may be deferred. You are neither accepted, nor rejected -- instead, the college would like to further consider your application against its full, regular admissions applicant pool. So, you may be accepted later.

Certain schools waitlist students who do not qualify in the first round of acceptances, but who still have solid credentials. This typically means that there are no more seats available, but if an accepted student declines his/her offer, you may be accepted in his/her place.