Explained below are the most common application policies students may encounter during the college admissions process. Given the variety of plans and the subtle differences between them, students should review college application materials closely to determine application requirements for specific schools.

Regular Application Deadline

Many colleges establish an application deadline by which all applications must be received. All students are then notified of the college’s decision at a specified response date (typically on or before April 1st). At most colleges, May 1st is the date by which accepted applicants must indicate their intention to enroll. By use of a common reply date, students may evaluate all admissions notices and financial aid awards before deciding on any one college.

Early Decision

Many colleges offer this plan to applicants who are sure that they want to attend the college. This college should clearly be the applicant’s first choice school. Traditionally, the deadline for early decision applications has been November 1st or November 15th. Colleges then render a decision by mid-December. Some colleges also have a second round of early decision in January or February. These later plans have the advantage of giving students more time to think through their decision. If accepted under the Early Decision plan, the student is under an ethical obligation to attend the college and to withdraw or forgo applications to all other schools. Some colleges exchange lists of students accepted under this program.

Early Action or Early Admission

This program is similar to early decision, with the exception that if admitted, the applicant is not ethically obligated to withdraw other applications and has until May 1st to make a decision.

Rolling Admission

Under this program a college considers a student’s application as soon as all the required documentation has been received. Notification of acceptance or rejection is mailed as soon as a decision is made. Colleges that follow this practice may make their admissions decisions continuously over several months, in contrast to the practices of other colleges that accumulate their applications until a deadline date and then announce all decisions at the same time.

Deferred or Delayed Admission

Many colleges allow an accepted candidate to postpone enrollment in a college for one semester or one year.

Open Admissions

An open admission policy grants acceptance to all high school graduates without regard to additional qualifications.