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7 Ways to Apply: Choosing the College Admissions Process That Works Best for You

The college admissions process is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. So to meet students where they’re at, colleges have come up with a series of options that lets you pick when you apply based on how much time you think you’ll need to work on your application and evaluate financial aid options. Here are the most common types of admission:

  1.       Early Decision

If you’ve found yourself saying, “I have to go to this school or I’ll die,” this is the application option for you. It is designed for students who have made up their minds about which college they’d like to attend and are ready to start the admissions process. There are two key benefits to this option and one major drawback. The benefits are that you greatly increase your chances of admission and you get your decision earlier, usually between December 1 and 15. The drawback is that this option is legally binding – you must attend this school if accepted. Upon acceptance, you must rescind any applications you have submitted to other schools. Please be aware that you are not allowed to apply Early Decision to more than one school. If a school finds out that you have applied to more than one institution under Early Decision, that school may rescind their offer of admission.

  1.       Early Action

In my opinion, Early Action is the best way to apply. Unlike Early Decision, Early Action is not binding nor restrictive – you can apply to as many schools as you’d like without incurring any sort of penalty. But perhaps the best part about this option – aside from increasing your chances of admission – is the long period of time it gives you to make a final decision as to which college you’ll be attending. As with Early Decision, applicants will receive decisions in time for the December holidays, but will have up until May 1 to accept an offer. What a deal!

  1.       Regular Admissions

This is the option for those students absolutely bombarded with school, work and extracurriculars, as it allows you much more time to fill out your application, polish your essay and decide which test scores to send in. Regular Admissions deadlines normally fall between late November and early February, and decisions are normally sent out in April or May.

  1.       Rolling Admissions

Many of the larger state schools offer this type of admission in which they keep reviewing applications until they have filled all spots for the incoming class. The great part about this option is there’s no fixed deadline. The bad part is that you never know when the school is going to run out of spots, so the sooner you submit your application the better. I would recommend this option only if you have been rejected from your first-choice school but are still looking to start college in the fall.

  1.       Open Admissions

If your grades aren’t the best but you’d still like to go to college, this is option is for you. Open Admissions means the school accepts anyone with a high school diploma or GED, regardless of past academic performance. However, this type of admission is generally reserved for community colleges, online schools and distance learning programs. So if you’d like to attend a standard four-year university, you need to hit the books.

  1.       Deferred Admissions

This term can mean one of two things. It could mean A) you applied early, but the school did not think your application was not strong enough to make the first round of cuts, so they are waiting to see how you will measure up against those who apply for regular admission before issuing you an admissions decision, or B) you were accepted to the school but have chosen to take a year off before starting college. This option is best for those who are short on funding and would like to save for an additional year before enrolling. I urge you not to choose this option simply because you’re burnt out from senior year. Remember: you will have the entire summer to recover!

  1.       Early Evaluation

The important thing to note about this option is that it is not an actual admissions decision. Early Evaluation simply means that the school will review your application and tell you whether or not your chances of admission are good, fair or poor – before the actual admissions decision is issued in the spring. Think of it as a preliminary decision in the regular admissions process. This option can either ease your mind or break your heart. Either way, it is of great help in determining whether or not you need to scramble to find a backup school or simply take time off and reapply at a later date.

As you can tell, each option comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages and you must ultimately choose the option that best suits you. But, extenuating circumstances aside, my recommendation is Early Action. It increases your chances of admission and gives you more time to decide where you want to go. It only asks that you get your application materials in a little bit earlier, and that’s not asking much at all.