Key to understanding The Application Process and setting Deadlines & Timelines is understanding Application Plans. Colleges generally offer one to five Application Plans. By Application Plan, I mean a way of applying to their College, in terms of timing and the related terms. With the exception of Colleges that offer a Rolling Admission Application Plan, generally a College will offer a Regular Decision Application Plan and some sort of early Application Plan: Early Action, Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action.

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The terms of Application Plans include 1) when you apply 2) when you are accepted or denied 3) when you must commit to attend that College and 4) under what terms you can apply to other Colleges at the same time.

Regular Decision (RD) is the most popular application plan.  Applications are generally due late-December to early in the year.  Students are usually notified no later than April 1 and commit on May 1. If you want your first semester senior year grades to help raise your GPA or if you hope to take the SAT and/or ACT later than September or October of your senior year (each College has their own test deadlines for each type of application plan), than RD (or possibly Rolling Admission) is likely the best choice for you.

I don’t know of any colleges that don’t offer RD, with the exception of Rolling Admission Colleges. The best way to check deadlines (not just for the application, but for test scores, transcript, etc.,) is to type <school name> undergraduate admissions deadlines in your internet search engine.  You may also apply to other Colleges via Early Decision, Early Action, Rolling Admission and Restrictive Early Action plans at the same time you apply to an RD College, although you will have to withdraw all of your applications if you are accepted into an Early Decision College. Some Colleges have their own policy for when/how you can apply to other Colleges, so be sure to check their admissions webpages to confirm.

Check out The Application Process to organize the application components.


  • Colleges can round out their student profiles with RD applicants. For example, if they have accepted a lot of athletes and National Merit Scholars through their early admission plans, Regular Decision is their opportunity to diversify and fill holes.  That might mean accepting more students who are the first in their family to attend College, or it might be finding a tuba player for the band.


  • Colleges have a finite treasure chest for financial and merit aid. If a large number of eligible College students in the early application pool qualify for aid, there will be that much less aid available for the Regular Decision applicants. Aid is a carrot Colleges use to entice students to attend their College. While Colleges may find money to entice outstanding RD students, the next step down of desirable students may not be offered any aid, which reduces their chances of enrolling.


  • You might be the person who fits a hole in the early applicants; that fit means you might be accepted to a College where you might not otherwise be accepted, based on academic merits alone.
  • Applying RD gives you time to find the right fit Colleges and to raise your GPA or increase your test score, if necessary.


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There are many variables to consider when deciding when you will apply to a college.

  • That finite treasure chest of aid may be depleted before your application is considered.
  • Some Colleges accept over half of their incoming freshman class via early applications. RD acceptance rates are generally much lower than for early applicants.
  • Colleges receive a lot of RD applications.  Students feel annoyed that they put so much time and effort and then have to wait around to find out whether they are accepted.  During that annoying wait, Colleges are going crazy reviewing hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands applications that all come in a very short time frame. It is harder to stand out amongst a much larger pool of applications that must be reviewed in a relatively short time frame.
  • One of the best ways to determine if a College is “the one”, is to visit that College overnight, staying in a dorm room with a current student, attending classes, eating in the cafeteria and soaking up the atmosphere. Most Colleges do not allow overnight visits until the fall of a student’s senior year. Some families may choose to wait for both scheduling reasons and to save money to send their senior to visit a particular College until they know they have been accepted.  Many Regular Decision Colleges don’t notify you of your acceptance until 4/1, requiring a commitment 5/1.  That gives you (and as many as thousands of other applicants) one month to schedule a visit to finalize your decision, which may be impossible.
Does money motivate you?

When you apply can have a direct impact on how much aid you will receive.

A College’s historical rates of financial and/or merit aid to RD students is an important consideration that should be discussed with the College’s Admission Officer. It is also important to research and discuss admission rates for the different Application Plans at that College.



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