Big Decisions When Choosing a College
Barely a few weeks into your final year of high school and you’ve got some big decisions to make. Hopefully, by now, you would have decided whether or not you want to go to college, and maybe even where you would like to apply. The next big decision is: when and how to apply for college. You have a handful of application methods to choose from, each with its own set of pros and cons, and each with a deadline. Every student has unique needs, so it is best to look at all of the different admission options to see which one best suits you before applying for college. As a senior, you are now on a very tight schedule as some of the application deadlines are fast approaching, so be sure to mark the dates on your calendar and be realistic about submitting your application on time, before deciding which option is best for you.
Regular decision is the most common approach to applying for college. As with all the admission options, not all colleges are on the same schedule, so you are strongly encouraged to check each school’s website – or better yet, contact them – to confirm their application deadline. Typically, Regular Decision applications should be submitted by January 1st, but the dates vary depending on the school. The University of California system, for example, requires Regular Decision applications to be submitted between October 1st and November 30th. Regardless of the deadline, you should always avoid leaving your application to the last minute, as that is when errors can occur and you will not have time to rectify anything that might go amiss. Generally speaking, once you have submitted your application, you can expect to receive notice of acceptance or rejection around April 1st.
While most students are content with the Regular Decision time frame, there are many students who would prefer to know the outcome of their college applications early. There are three choices for students to complete the entire application process before Christmas. Students who choose Early Action can apply to several schools, without committing themselves to any particular college. Most schools offering Early Action expect to receive the applications no later than November 1st, and will notify the students in December, giving them the next few months to compare scholarship and financial aid awards before making a final decision. Early Action is best suited to students who have everything (test scores, exams, reference letters, etc) prepared in advance.
Restrictive Early Action
Another early application method is Restrictive Early Action, also non-binding, but more limited than Early Action. REA is suitable for students who have a specific top-choice college they wish to attend, but need to see what financial aid offers are available. With similar deadlines to other early programs (usually November 1st, but check with each school), you may apply to only one private school early using REA, while all other applications to private schools must be Regular Decision. You are also able to apply to public universities/colleges when opting for REA. Check the school website for exceptions to the restrictions.
Early Decision is your third early option, but, unlike the other two, this one is binding. Students who choose this route can apply to only one school and are obligated to attend the college if they are accepted. You may only reject an Early Decision offer if the financial aid offer is insufficient. Because of the restrictive nature of the Early Decision plan, it is best suited for students who are 100% certain about which college they wish to attend, regardless of the amount of financial aid offered.
Rolling admission usually opens up in early fall and continues through the spring as long as there are still spaces available. Not all colleges employ Rolling Admission, so it is worth confirming before considering this option. Rolling Admission can reduce stress for those who feel pressured by deadlines, but it should not be used as an excuse to procrastinate. If you are going to apply Rolling Admission, it is best to get your application in promptly as there will still be deadlines for scholarships, financial aid and housing.
Deciding how and when you will apply to college is a big decision. Many students find the Regular Admission process works for them, while others prefer to know as soon as possible where they will attend college. Both the Common App online and the college websites list the admissions plans employed and submission dates. Whichever method you choose to apply for college, always allow yourself enough time to submit an excellent application well within the deadline.