Back in the day, I made a copy of a one-page application to East Texas State University, filled in all the blanks and dropped it in the mail. A couple weeks later an acceptance letter arrived and my next four years were set.
Fast forward 38 years and very few colleges will even accept a paper application and applicants have to tell the school what flavor of admission they prefer. Some colleges offer rolling admission. They will review your application once all the supporting materials are in and let you know right away whether you pass muster. If that sounds good to the student, they select that admissions choice. There is also early action, and early admission. If there is a difference between these two options, I have not been able to identify it. Either way, you end up with the same result. If this early deadline is met, the colleges will review the application early (much like the rolling admissions offer) and make the student aware of their decision sometime months ahead of the actual application deadline.
In this paradise of application options there lurks a snake. Its name is Early Decision. It sounds no more treacherous than the other options beginning with the word “Early”, but be very careful with this option. It even comes with a warning label… When a student chooses this option, they are telling the college that they are the end all, be all school; that if they will just lower themselves to grant them admission, they will withdraw all their other applications and march onto their campus with money in hand for whatever the college wants to charge in tuition and fees.
Last and most popular is Regular Decision. There are no bells, whistles or hidden agreements attached to this option. If the college says yes, you decide whether to attend or not; if the college says no, you move on to the next option. This is likely the most popular option because of procrastination. But, being last to apply is not a very good position when dealing with a popular college; and who wants to attend an unpopular college? The risk of applying regular decision is that all the seats in the freshmen class may already be taken.
Whether you wish for the day of only one application option or want to throw everything at a college using early decision, don’t wait till the deadline to pull the trigger. This is a four year, hundred thousand dollar-commitment (likely much more). Treat the process like it means something and submit a good, solid, timely application.