Barbara Phelps

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Colleges offer high school seniors several application deadline options to control as well as predict the number of students who will actually matriculate to their institutions in the fall. Your job is to understand your options and plan a strategy that will best suit your goals for admission. Now is the time to make your plan as the first application deadlines are often in early November.

First, let’s define the various options:

Early Action (EA)

This options allows students to apply early (typically in November) in order to receive a response from the institution early (typically in late December), well in advance of the regular application cycle. This option is non-binding and allows students until May 1, “National Candidate’s Reply Date,” to make their decision regarding enrollment.

Early Decision (ED)

Again, this is an early application option similar to Early Action, with one important caveat: If you apply ED and are offered admission, you are bound to attend that institution. Only apply ED if you have personally visited the institution, you are certain it is a good “fit” for you and you are ready to commit to that school early in your senior year. ED acceptance rates are generally higher than other options as colleges want to admit students who are serious about enrolling in their institutions. Note: You may apply to only ONE institution using the ED option. If you are accepted to an ED school, you must withdraw all other applications.

Restrictive Early Action

This is another early application option typically restricting you from applying to any other institution using EA/ED/REA. Students may, however, apply to other schools using the regular decision process. This option is non-binding, so students have until May 1 to make their enrollment decisions.

Regular Decision

The majority of applicants apply (typically in early January) using this option for a variety of reasons. Many students need more time to visit and research colleges to narrow their lists, others are waiting for improved test scores (ACT/SAT), some just procrastinate. Since so many applicants choose this option, the decisions from admission offices take more time. You will typically hear back from the admission committee in late March. Students have until May 1 to commit.

Rolling Admission

This option proves to be the least stressful for seniors. As soon as your complete file is in the hands of the admission committee, you are considered for admission. These decisions can be made in as little as three weeks, but can take up to six weeks. The definition of a “complete” file (application, essay, high school transcript, teacher and counselor letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, etc.) varies by institution, so check each college website for specific requirements.

Priority Deadline

This refers to the latest date you can submit your application and still be considered for institutional scholarships.

Your next step is to carefully read the admission website for each of the schools you are interested in to determine application options. Not every school offers each of the above application options. Organize your calendar, set your goals and stick to them. In most cases if you turn in a late application, you will not be considered. Start early, your best work is done when you have time to thoughtfully complete your applications and revise as necessary.

• Barbara Phelps is an independent college consultant and Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She assists students in grades 9-12 with the college planning, search and application process. Reach her at (602) 697-4543, or

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