College Deadline Dilemmas

As you start the college application process, it’s important to know the different types of application deadlines.


Leo Laguerre, Editor-in-chief

While researching colleges and universities, you are bound to come across confusing deadlines. Although they may all seem the same, there are many types of college deadlines, each with their own significant differences. It’s important to know which deadline is right for you as different circumstances and preferences require different types of deadlines. 


Early Decision

Early decision is the strictest kind of deadline. In early decision, you must sign a binding contract stating that if you get accepted to the school you applied early to, you must go there. You can only apply to one school under early decision, and if accepted, you must revoke all other applications and attend that school. These deadlines are usually in November, with a decision sometime in December. Applying under early decision can make you more appealing to colleges, as it shows that you are committed and really want to be part of that school’s community. You should only apply to a school under early decision if you are absolutely certain that you want to go to that school. 


LHS senior guidance counselor Mrs. Ward detailed how some colleges only offer early decision for very competitive programs. Early decision can be a good choice for very competitive schools and can lead to more scholarship opportunities. 


Early Action

Early action is similar to early decision; however, it is not binding. You can apply to more than one school under early action, and if accepted, you still have the freedom to choose what school you want to attend. Some schools will split their early action deadlines into “early action I” and “early action II”, with both deadlines having the same rules and benefits. These deadlines usually tend to fall in November, with decisions coming out in December. If you apply early, you are more likely to get accepted and have access to more scholarship opportunities if accepted.


Mrs. Ward adds that in early action, there is a smaller pool of students so there is a higher chance you will be selected. She recommends early action if you have a strong academic record or if you want the opportunity to earn a greater amount of merit scholarships. 


Restrictive Early Action

Restrictive early action is a rare type of college deadline that is a mixture between early decision and early action. Restrictive early action only lets you apply to one school early. They are not binding, so if you get accepted to a school with restrictive early action, you do not have to attend. These deadlines, like the ones prior, tend to fall in November and yield decisions by December. Applying under restrictive early action can make you look more appealing to colleges as it shows your high interest in a school. You should only apply under restrictive early action if you do not plan on applying early to any other school. 


Restrictive early action is incredibly rare and you are unlikely to come across it during your college search. According to, the only colleges to offer this type of deadline are Boston College, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, and Yale University.


Regular Decision

Regular decision is a non-binding application deadline that is seen as the “normal” or “default” deadline. These deadlines usually fall around January and February, and decisions can come back as soon as April. Since these deadlines are later in the year, they give you more time to work on your applications. 


Mrs. Ward notes that you might prefer regular decisions if you would want your first term grades or recent SAT scores to be included on your applications. Additionally, the restrictions brought on by early decision and restricted early action may force you to apply under regular decision. 


Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions are non-binding and unique in that they are not deadlines. Schools with rolling admissions will accept applications to specific programs until they are filled up. Depending on the school, programs can fill up slowly or rapidly. Some schools establish deadlines within their rolling admissions for specific programs. If you apply to a school with rolling admissions, be sure to get your applications submitted early enough so as to not miss out on a spot or scholarship opportunities.


According to Mrs. Ward, one benefit of this system of admissions is that you can learn the decision on your application in a couple days, sometimes even the next day.  


With so many types of deadlines, it’s easy to get them mixed up. You can meet with your guidance counselor if you have any questions about college deadlines or the general college application process. You should research the deadlines that your preferred college offers and make an informed decision, based on your preferences and circumstances, on what type of deadline is right for you.