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Our Guide to College Admissions Lingo



The college admissions process can be overwhelming even before you add the myriad of different application options - ED, EA, rolling and regular admissions. Understanding the terminology and details of each alternative is crucial to finding the best choice for your student. Not all options are offered by all schools and you may find that your student uses different options for each school they apply to.


Students looking for an early answer have several choices - Early Decision, Early Action and Rolling Admissions. These options are good for applicants who are satisfied with their current SAT/ACT scores and believe their academic record through junior year is strong enough to stand on its own. If they need a strong fall semester or to retake the SAT/ACT to strengthen their application, these are probably not the best application choices. But if students are ready an early yes means they already have their “I’M GOING TO COLLEGE!” moment and senior year stress is minimized.


EARLY DECISION (ED) plans are BINDING! The student enters a contract to attend that college if they are accepted. Do your research before applying early decision - check the school’s Net Price Calculator (NPC) to be sure that this school will be a financial fit. You will not be able to compare financial aid packages from other schools. You can only apply to ONE school early decision. On the other hand, sometimes admission rates are higher for this pool of applicants. Some schools will offer a second round of early decision. We can’t emphasize enough that this option should only be used by students who are positive the college is a academic, social and financial fit for them.


EARLY ACTION (EA) plans are not binding. Students will usually get a decision in January or February but will not need to make a decision until May 1. They can apply to as many colleges as they want through early action and regular decision. Once acceptance decisions are in, families will be able to compare the various financial aid packages.


Under ROLLING ADMISSIONS, the college will look at the application when it is submitted and notify the student of a decision within a few weeks. Some schools only offer rolling notifications early in the admissions process; after a certain date all applications will be reviewed and decisions released together. After regular decision deadlines have passed some colleges may offer rolling admissions for slots still available in the upcoming freshman class.


REGULAR ADMISSIONS applications are typically due in January although each school has it’s own deadline. This pool of applicants will include students who were neither accepted nor denied in early admissions plans. Decisions are released in March or early April and students have until May 1 to decide where they want to attend. It still pays to get applications in before the deadline, allowing for time in case parts of the application are missing. Colleges generally will not penalize a student if things beyond their control, like transcripts or letters of recommendation, are late. But who wants to chance it? 

Remember each set of admisisions plans has it’s own set of deadlines for financial aid. Make sure to keep track of these deadlines. Colleges have a limited pool of money for merit and financial aid. If you miss the deadline you may miss out on any aid. 

Find the right combination of admissions plans for your student that will help reduce their stress.