Deadlines drive the entire college application process, so it is important to understand what a college's deadlines are and what they mean. Always check a college's website to find the most accurate and current deadline information. Below are definitions of the different admission deadlines you may encounter.
Early Decision (ED)
This is a binding agreement between the student and the college. If a student is accepted ED by a college, the student is expected to withdraw their applications from every institution within 48 hours of acceptance. Therefore, it is extremely important that if a student is applying ED, the student knows without a doubt that it is their top choice school and that the student and family can pay to attend the institution.
Students may only apply to ONE school Early Decision and there may be restrictions on how they can apply to other institutions. Check a college's website for full details on their ED agreement. Some colleges offer an Early Decision II admission plan. Because students can only be in one Early Decision agreement at at time, EDII is usually used by students who have been denied of deferred at their EDI institution. EDII has the same binding agreement as EDI.
Because Early Decision is a binding agreement, the student, parent, and school counselor must sign a contract as part of the application process. Instructions on how to do this will be found in the college's application.
Restrictive Early Action (REA)/Single Choice Early Action
This is a non-binding agreement, however there are restrictions to applying to other universities under this admission plan. A student will not be able to apply to another university using Early Decision and may also be restricted on applying to some schools Early Action. Because each REA and Single Choice Early Action school are different, read each college's policies regarding this admission plan very carefully.
Early Action (EA)/Priority Admission
This is a non-binding and non-restrictive admission plan. This is the plan that is most commonly used by students as in many cases it is tied to a college's scholarship program. In most cases, students will want to meet an Early Action or Priority deadline to take advantage of knowing their admission decision sooner and not missing any important scholarship deadlines.
Regular Decision (RD)
Many colleges that offer other admission plans will also offer a Regular Decision plan. Generally speaking, it is the final deadline for application at most schools. These deadlines are often in January-March, so students will learn of their admission decision at a later date.
When a student applies to a college that has rolling admission, the admission decision will be received on a rolling basis - often within only a few weeks of completing the application. While rolling admission doesn't have a particular deadline, (or the deadline may even be the summer after senior year) students are still encouraged to apply earlier in the year as many rolling institutions may only be able to accept students on a space-as-available basis.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) also has a chart to depict these different admission plans (see below).