If you’re applying to college this year, you already know there are a lot of important terms and deadlines to keep in mind. And if you’re interested in applying early to a school, you need to make sure you’re even more on top of your college application deadline.
To help you through the process, and given we’re about one month away from the early college application deadline, we put together some information and a general timeline to help as you apply this fall.
There’s a lot of talk that applying “early” to college can increase your chances of acceptance into top universities. This can sometimes be true, but in order to maximize your application, you need to make sure you understand the different kinds of early application programs at colleges and timelines for each.
Here’s a quick refresher of all the “early” application terms:
Early Action (EA) means that you get to apply early to a college or university, but are not required to attend the school if admitted. If you receive admission early action, you’ll typically receive an offer in December or January and can still apply to other schools and weigh your options. Early Action is a great way to show your strong interest without committing to attend the school if accepted. Keep in mind that if you are admitted early action, you’ll need to let the college know if you accept their offer before most regular decisions are released.
Restrictive Early Action demands that students only apply to one institution Early Action, making it similar to an early decision application.
Early Decision (ED) is binding. This means you can only apply to one school ED at a time, and if you’re offered admission at an ED school, you must attend the school. If you’re rejected from one Early Decision school, you can apply to another ED school.
If you receive an offer of admission through ED, you must withdraw all other applications. If a school offers ED, there’s typically two rounds of it, allowing students to apply ED to a second school if they’re rejected in round one. ED is for students who are truly committed to their top choice school and prepared to attend if offered admission. Since these decisions come out before regular decision applications are even due, it’s a great way to show a school is your number one choice.
Lastly, a school might have Rolling Admission, which means the school will review applications as they come in. Schools will give a window of time during which they’ll review applications, so applications to rolling admission schools will continue late into the season as well. Rolling Admission is non-binding, meaning students can apply to other schools as well. Schools with rolling admissions will begin reviewing applications and putting out offers of admission right away. Typically, students in the first round of application review have a higher likelihood of receiving an offer of admission as the schools have more open spots. Therefore, it’s advantageous to the student to apply as early as their application can be thoughtfully completed.
As the names imply, Early Action and Early Decision require students to apply sooner at schools. This means you must be more organized and on top of your materials starting ideally in the summer between junior and senior year of high school. See our suggested timeline below for applying early, especially given most college application deadlines are November 1 or November 15.
August & September: Research and decision making
Summer is the time to research schools you may be interested in attending. Once you have narrowed down to a few top choices, look into whether the schools offer Early Action or Early Decision programs. If you make a decision to apply ED in particular, make sure you have fully researched and ideally visited the school if you can. If you want to apply early, you ideally want to have finished all research before you begin senior year.
As a reminder, Early Decision is binding. You need to remember that this decision impacts more than just you as college is a huge financial responsibility. If you’re considering Early Decision at a school that does not cover 100% of demonstrated need, you should have an honest conversation about financing your education before committing to a college. Make sure you and your family are able to cover the cost of a school before you apply ED and find yourself committed to the school.
This is a great time to write down time estimates for extracurriculars and a statement describing each one of them. Some students even choose to create a college resume to help them lay out all they do. Consult your parents and mentors to help you remember all you have accomplished so far in high school.
Brainstorm essay topics
By August, schools have already posted their supplemental essay topics for the next
admissions cycle. While doing research on your top schools, copy or print out their essays. Brainstorm and draft your initial responses. This will give you plenty of time to get feedback on your responses and edit as necessary.
Get help from your high school
In the first few weeks of school, reach out to your school counselors to let them know you’re applying early. Identify and communicate with the teachers you want to write you a recommendation. Let them know you are applying ED or EA and share the deadlines with them. It helps to sit down with each teacher and share some things you do that they may not know about. Making sure your recommenders know you personally is key to receiving a good recommendation. Be sure you have secured confirmation from your recommenders by the end of September.
Complete financial forms
If you’re applying for financial aid, you should take advantage of the summer months to
complete the CSS Profile and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. Applicants are permitted to use their family’s previous tax documents (FY2018), so summer is a great time to work through it. Filling out financial aid information is time consuming and can be stressful if you leave it to the last minute. You’ll likely need your parents help with this and they’ll want time to locate the financial documents they need, so start this as soon as possible. If anything major shifts within family income in 2019 (a parent lost a job, a sibling went to college, they bought or sold a house), you should wait to fill out the FAFSA form with the most recent tax documents.
Hopefully you took the SAT or ACT during your junior year! If you’re happy with your results, you don’t need to retake the exams and should have your scores sent to the schools you will be applying early to. If you choose to take the SAT or ACT again, be aware of latest test dates and registration deadlines to make applying early possible:
- October 26th ACT registration deadline is September 20th with a late registration deadline of October 4th.
October: Time to review that application checklist!
Notify your school registrar to send transcripts
If you intend to apply for a November deadline, you should notify your school registrar to send your transcripts early in October. This avoids any hassle and gives the school advanced notice. A week before the college application deadline, make sure to check in for confirmation that they were sent.
You’ll submit your testing (SAT, ACT, etc.) results online. Be sure to request that your scores be sent a few weeks in advance of your college application deadline.
Make sure recommenders have submitted
You’ll receive an email once a recommendation has been submitted for you, so make sure all of your recommendations are in before your ED/EA deadline. (P.S. our free CollegeAdvisor.com web app is great for this!).
Be persistent when checking in with your recommenders but remember many teachers will be writing lots of recommendations in the fall. You want to be on top of deadlines but always kind and considerate to your teachers.
Work on final drafts of essays
These final weeks are crucial for fine-tuning essays. Make sure you have enough time to put your essays away for a week and come back to them to edit. Ideally, you will have at least two other people read over your essays and help with editing.
November: It’s submission time!
Most Early Decision I (EDI) applications are due in November, and some Early Action applications are also due this month. Double check to make sure everything has been compiled and then hit Submit and breathe a sigh of relief!
Start working on Regular Decision applications
You should still be prepared to submit applications to other schools if you do not get in through ED or EA. You should have a list of schools prepared that you plan to apply to regular decision if you don’t receive an offer of admission early.
So while you’re waiting to hear back, start working on that next wave of applications. You’ve already done much of the hard work of completing the common application and writing essays, now begin to research and draft your supplemental essays for any regular decision applications you will make. Don’t feel that you need to fully fine tune all these applications, but it helps to have a start on them if you need them.
Early Decision II (EDII)
Some students might be applying to a later round of Early Decision. EDII typically coincides with a school’s regular college application deadline. EDII applicants can apply to other schools through regular decision and subsequently withdraw other applications if they receive EDII admission.
December: Expect to hear back from your top school(s)
If you applied EDI or EA, you should hear back with an admissions decision in December.
Once you receive this decision, you can choose to move forward with other applications if necessary.
Hopefully this helps give you a basic timeline if you choose to apply Early Decision or Early Action. Remember, the majority of students still apply to colleges Regular Decision, so if you can’t meet the early college application deadline, you’re better off completing your application thoroughly and submitting it for the regular college application deadline.
We’re sending you all the positive vibes and hoping you achieve whatever your college dreams may be!