When Should You Apply to College?

10/26/2017 09:23 pm ET

That is a great question, and it really depends on where you are applying.

Does it matter when you submit?

This will hinge on the school’s application policy. It is critical for you to understand how schools review their applications. Do not rush an application just to apply early. If your essay is not as polished as it could be, or you are taking the SAT or ACT at a later date when you will be more prepared, applying early will not make up for a lower test score; so apply when your application is complete and as strong as possible.

Be strategic with when you submit applications to boost your odds of admission.
Be strategic with when you submit applications to boost your odds of admission.

Here is some helpful information on the different types of application policies to help you decide when to apply:

Early Decision I & Early Decision II

Early decision is a binding application program, where an applicant agrees to apply to one college and submit all application materials by November 1st. The application is binding; this means that if an early decision applicant is admitted, she is obligated to attend that university and withdraw any outstanding applications to other colleges.

Colleges notify early decision applicants by mid-December as to whether they have been accepted, rejected, or deferred to regular decision review. If an applicant is deferred, it means that applicant will be considered again as part of the regular decision applicant pool and find out by April if she will be offered a place.

Some colleges offer an Early Decision II application program in addition to an Early Decision I program. Early Decision II is very similar to an early decision program, but has a January deadline. Early Decision II may be a better fit for an applicant that is able to commit to attend one college but needs additional time to complete the college application, take the SAT an additional time, or submit grades from the first semester of senior year to strengthen her application.

The difference between early decision and regular decision admission rates is somewhat misleading. Many of the colleges listed above require recruited athletes to apply early decision. Some colleges also require applicants that have alumni legacies to apply early decision if they want their alumni legacies to be considered in the application process.

Early Action

Early action is a nonbinding early application program. With an early action application, an applicant submits her application, usually by the beginning or middle of November, and is notified whether she has been accepted, rejected, or deferred to the regular decision applicant pool by the middle of December. If an applicant is accepted under an early action program, she can continue to apply to other colleges and decide by the regular decision deadline whether she will enroll or not.

Regular Decision

Regular decision refers to applications that are due as early as the end of November and usually no later than the beginning of January. Regular decision is the normal application process and offers no particular advantages over other application programs a college may offer. If your child plans to apply to a college that offers a priority or preferred application deadline, your child MUST submit her application by the preferred or priority cut-off date. Failing to do so will severely harm your child’s odds of admission, as many of the available slots will be allocated before admissions officers review your child’s application.

Rolling

Some colleges offer rolling admissions, which means they either admit or deny applicants as the applications are received. The more slots available, the higher your child’s odds of acceptance will be for that college. Furthermore, some colleges have much higher admission rates for early decision or early action application programs, which your child should capitalize on as well.

Greg Kaplan is the founder of College Path, the first app that provides personal and affordable college counseling, a college application strategist, and author of Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges. College Path and Greg are dedicated to helping students develop and market their passions to earn admission to their dream college and create the foundation for long-term success. For more information, visit www.collegepathweekly.com.

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