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Deciding When to Apply

Colleges use various deadlines and terminology, and it is important to understand the different application plans and the terms used so that you meet all the requirements.

  • "Early Decision" (ED) is a binding commitment to enroll at a particular college if you are offered admission. You apply early and receive an early response. If admitted under an ED plan, you must withdraw all other applications. If you are applying ED and are applying for financial aid, it is important that you use the school's online aid calculator and contact the financial aid office with questions prior to applying.
  • Several colleges offer "Restrictive Early Action" (REA), which means that a student may not apply early decision, early action, or REA to other private institutions; the student will get an early result, but the college does not consider this decision as binding on the student.
  • Other colleges, including many state schools, have "Early Action" (EA) plans that do not use the term "restricted." These function like priority deadlines or rolling deadlines, and the college will allow a student to apply to other colleges without restriction. Many EA schools wait until after January 1 to notify students of their decisions.
  • "Priority" deadlines (such as Maryland's) are typically November 1 and give students priority in the review process and the best chance for admission. Many state schools (such as Binghamton and Michigan) use the term Early Action to refer to their priority deadline. We urge students to meet these early deadlines when applying to state schools because late applicants may not be admitted, even with sufficiently strong academic records.
  • "Regular Admission" uses a set deadline, often January 1 or January 15, and students learn their results in March or April.
  • "Rolling Decision" schools (such as Pittsburgh) send decisions on a rolling basis, usually within six weeks of the college receiving a completed application. In some cases, schools become more competitive the later you apply, so it is advisable to apply early.

Since there are numerous early plans, please consult with your college adviser before committing to any early application. Please see our companion document, Ethical Issues in the Application Process, for further information about early decision and early action.

Applicants to the City University of New York (CUNY) are encouraged to apply early. Furthermore, the student portion of the application must be submitted online before the College Office can send the transcript, so a delay in applying online will mean even more of a delay before the application can be reviewed. See Section V of "Application Materials" for more information about CUNY applications.

It's never too early to start! We've seen too many people ruin their Thanksgiving and/or winter vacations because they left applications for the last minute. Start collecting all the information that you need now (essay ideas/drafts, family history, a list of extracurricular activities, etc.) and keep it organized. Start thinking about the supplemental essays that individual colleges require. Remember that fall and winter will be filled with chagim, midterms, papers, and exams, as well as applications. We strongly encourage you to begin working on your essays over the summer.