Application Deadlines Are NOT Due Dates
You may not know which college accepted you until the end of February or even March, but that doesn’t mean they waited until then to make a decision. While many colleges hold all their decisions for release on one date, they’ve been making them for months prior.
Reading applications is the most time-consuming part of an admissions counselor’s job, so they read early, often, and in the order in which applications are received.
There is one small caveat; your application must be complete for it to be reviewed, meaning all pieces from you, your school, your school counselor, your teachers, and testing companies. So be organized, polite, and MOST IMPORTANTLY give others ample advanced notice of what you need from them and when.
Why is Early Better?
Reading Season is a long, hard slog. When I worked in a high-volume application office, we were expected to read 50 applications a day. Sure, we could do the work from home, and that seemed nice, but was it? The season ran from December through February, which means I’d load a box full of hundreds of applications in their manilla folders (back in the days of paper applications), then go home and hunker down in the dark days of a Pennsylvania winter, reading app after app. I wanted to give everyone a good read, be fair to all, but this is life and life isn’t fair.
The Dean ultimately made the decisions, so throughout the season we’d return to the office to stock up on more applications and present to him the ones we’d recently read. As the number of admits rose and the day to drop all decisions drew near, we jockeyed for our time to advocate for students from our territory, students we had met and liked, students of school counselors we’d become friends with, or students from schools where we wanted to gain some momentum and hope for more applications in the future. In those final weeks, we’d be debating the merits of one application over another so much that sometimes you couldn’t even remember what you were fighting for anymore.
I always felt bad for those final batches of applications, the ones that came it at the January 1 deadline, because they were competing for admission under very different circumstances than those submitted in August.
Applying Early is NOT the Same As Early Decision or Early Action
There are often several terms under which you can apply to a college. Most students apply under Regular Decision, meaning they submit an application, hear back from the college in the spring, and may or may not enroll.
Early Decision means you apply to your #1 school, hear a decision before the New Year, and will enroll if accepted. Early Action follows the same timeline as Early Decision but is not binding so students use this option if they have a first-choice school but are worried they may not be able to make the finances work out.
I’m not talking about ED or EA here; I’m talking about submitting your Regular Decision application as soon as you can. The Common Application is available starting August 1 of a student’s senior year. Look at the year ahead - do you play a fall sport? Plan on joining the cast of the winter musical? Feel nervous about the workload of all those AP classes you registered for? Then get your applications done before the school year even starts and have one less thing on your to-do list.