Which College Admissions Deadline Should You Choose?

Experts offer tips on early, rolling, and regular deadlines for your college applications.


Every year, students apply to college early for a number of different reasons, whether they found the school of their dreams or they just want to get through the process. Does it make a difference? This week, our experts weigh in on the different application options so you can decide what's right for you.

Q: Between early, rolling, and regular, which deadline is best for students to apply?

A: Early, rolling along, and standard bearer—they all work.

Diana Hanson, college consultant, College Mentors The various (and growing number of) admissions options can become confusing. Each has its place within your college strategy. If you have a clear first choice college, applying early decision (ED) can be a boon, since many colleges accept a higher percentage of ED students. Remember though that if you apply ED, you are contracting to go to that college, should they accept you. The other type of early plan, early action (EA) is not binding—and you can apply EA to multiple colleges.

If, however, you need your first-semester senior grades to help boost your GPA, you may choose not to apply early, but rather regular decision, since these due dates are generally after your midterm grades have been released. Rolling admissions means that a college makes admissions decisions as they receive applications, and so you could hear back as early as four to six weeks from the time you apply, and isn't it nice to have an acceptance or two under your belt by the time you're filing your last applications?

See all of Diane's expert admissions advice.

[Find out why early applicants are more likely to gain admission.]

A: When do you want to know where you're going to college?

Esther Walling, college counselor, Thomas Jefferson High School, Los Angeles For the student who is absolutely sure of his or her choice, has visited the college, has a relationship with admissions, and has done everything he or she can possibly think of to assure a more than strong chance of getting in, early action is a really good choice and the student will know the result sooner. For those who are still searching, regular admission is probably best and March is a good month to settle into their decision, especially if financial aid is an issue.

Rolling admission shouldn't be a backup for those who have real trouble making up their minds, get waitlisted at their favorite, or simply succumb to procrastination. It can backfire if the student applies really late. In any event students should make sure they have done what they need to do to make sure they are admitted somewhere—especially meeting all required deadlines.

See all of Esther's expert admissions advice.

[Get advice on how to pay for college.]

A: The early bird often gets the worm.

Craig Meister, president, Tactical College Counseling The more time in his first three years of high school a student devotes to researching colleges, visiting campuses, and evaluating his preferences and goals, the more likely he will be able to apply to colleges on his list via the admissions plan that will be most advantageous. Not all schools offer rolling admission, but those that do should definitely be applied to in this manner as soon as their applications become available. Alternatively, early plans are great options too; however, never apply early decision unless fully committed to attending a college, as this plan is binding. Bottom line: those ready to apply near the beginning of their senior years generally earn more acceptance letters.

See all of Craig's expert admissions advice.

[Learn more about applying to college.]

A: Before applying early, do your homework.

Kristen Tabun, director of college guidance, Woodlynde School, Strafford, Pa. While there are benefits to each decision plan, rolling admission works out well for most students, provided they can get their applications completed early in the season. Admission tends to get more selective as time goes on because there are fewer seats left. For students who have identified colleges they are more interested in, applying early action (nonbinding) can also help them get some early feedback. Early decision, of course, should be explored only after students have done careful research and visits, and have selected their top choice.

See all of Kristen's expert admissions advice.

[Find out how to know if applying early is right for you.]

Visit the Unigo Expert Network for 15 more answers of application deadline advice and to have your own questions answered.