College Application Tips: Early Decision, Late Start, and More

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By Oshitha Narangoda
Last updated on August 10, 2023

Learn all about the different types of admissions policies at US universities and how to choose the right application type for your study in the USA plans.

A male international student sits at a table with a university counselor and goes over university application paperwork

If you are an international student planning to submit an application for college admission to US universities, it’s important to narrow down your options, be realistic about your chances of being admitted to the schools that interest you, and make sure you have enough time to apply.

Admission policies may vary by university and enrollment period, so as you research colleges and plan your college applications, remember to keep track of each school’s deadlines for applications and financial aid, as well as their specific admission policies, so you don’t miss any opportunities.

What Are the Different Types of College Admissions in the US?

US universities and colleges typically offer the following admissions options:

  • Regular Admission: This is the most common option for international students planning to pursue a four-year degree at a US college or university starting in the fall (i.e., the beginning of a given school year). Regular admission requires you to submit your application by a specific date — typically between November and January. After your application is reviewed, the admissions committee will send either an acceptance or rejection letter. The deadline for regular admissions would be the last date you can send in your application materials for an on-time start.

  • Rolling Admission: Large state universities in the US may allow you to apply at any time during your admissions period. As the rolling admissions process is based on a first-come, first-serve basis, it is important to submit your application as early as possible to have an opportunity to enroll. If you are considering a rolling admission, you can apply at any time during the admission period — generally September through July.

  • Open Admission: Commonly offered by community colleges, online schools, and distance-learning programs, this type of admission gives any student who meets entry requirements the opportunity to enroll. High school graduates with a diploma or a similar qualification can take advantage of this type of admissions policy.

  • Early Decision: If you are an international student and know exactly which school you want to attend (e.g., your top-choice dream university), applying early decision may make sense for you. However, you cannot apply to more than one university for early decision because if you are accepted, you commit to attending that college or university — no changing your mind. If you decide to apply through early decision, make sure to speak to your Shorelight counselor before you submit your application.

  • Early Action: Similar to early decision, early action admissions may be considered when applying to your top-choice college. However, this option allows you to apply to more than one college during the same period. If you get accepted to several colleges, you can simply confirm your offer with one college and withdraw the remaining acceptances.

  • Early Evaluation: If you want a better sense of your chances of getting accepted to a specific college or university, you can submit your application through early evaluation and get it reviewed in advance. The admissions committee will let you know if your chances of getting accepted are good, fair, or not likely.

  • Deferred Admission: With this type of admission, you can defer your enrollment for a year after being accepted at a particular college or university. This option is ideal for students who want to take a gap year to travel abroad, explore career opportunities through internships, or need additional time to save money and/or make financial aid arrangements.

  • Late Admission: Many institutions in the US continue to accept applications until the start of the fall semester. So, even if you didn’t apply during the regular admission period, you may be able to apply last minute through schools that accept late admission applications. If you plan to apply late admission, remember to check which schools are still accepting applications, take note of deadlines, and speak to a Shorelight advisor.

Now that you have learned about the different admissions options at US universities, it is important to understand how to choose the right option for you, so you do not miss out on any opportunities to attend the college of your choice.

How to Choose the Right Type of College Admission for Your Application

When you identify your goals and understand the differences between admissions options, you can choose the right process for you. Remember, not every college in the US offers every type of college admission options. However, apart from regular admission, the most popular admissions types to consider include early decision, rolling admission, and late admission.

When Should I Consider Early Decision?

When you apply early decision, the agreement is binding. This means you cannot apply to multiple colleges through early decision.

You should only apply early decision if you are:

  • Confident that your preferred college is your best fit, after taking time to research your options thoroughly

  • Comfortable with only applying to your preferred college for early decision

  • Realistic about committing to enroll at your preferred college

  • Meeting or exceeding the preferred college’s admissions requirements

  • Well prepared to handle the cost

  • Open to a backup college in case your application is rejected — and being comfortable with submitting backup applications later in the admissions cycle

When Should I Consider Early Action?

Similar to early decision, early action allows students to get their applications reviewed before regular admissions students. However, early action also allows students to apply to multiple schools without a binding agreement.

You should only consider early action if you are:

  • Interested in several top-choice colleges

  • Confident about your preferred colleges’ financial aid offerings

  • Satisfied with your academic record (including good test scores)

  • Aware that early action deadlines are earlier than regular decision deadlines

Did you know that, according to National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) 2019 State of College Admission Report, colleges reported higher acceptance rates for students who applied through early action and early decision, compared with those who took the regular decision route? This means that if you have a strong academic record and choose to apply early, you may have a better chance of acceptance from the college of your choice!

When Should I Consider Rolling Admission?

Many colleges and universities in the US maintain a rolling admission policy. So, if you consider rolling admission, you have a wider time frame to submit your application, giving you more flexibility as you consider your college decision.

Applying via rolling admission makes sense if you:

  • Have a list of potential colleges that accept applications on a rolling basis

  • Are comfortable with ongoing competition (e.g., knowing that more attractive candidates may submit applications during your same review period)

  • Understand that your application may be reviewed after others who met priority deadlines, potentially leading to fewer available spots for applicants like you

  • Know that not all prestigious colleges in the US may offer rolling admissions

When Should I Apply Late to College?

If you are not sure where you want to pursue your degree, there is nothing to worry about! Many universities in the US continue to accept applications until the start of the fall semester. Some universities may even offer late start options for fall! So, even if you have not completed your application in time for a regular admissions deadline, you may still have the chance of getting accepted and starting classes on campus.

Consider late admission if you:

  • Research the colleges and universities that still accept applications. Universities like Adelphi University, Florida International University, and the University of Illinois Chicago offer late admission for international students like you. You can check the annual list of colleges and universities that accept late applications by visiting the NACAC website or speaking to a Shorelight advisor.

  • Take note of late admission deadlines and submit your completed applications on time

  • Apply for financial aid as early as possible

Which College Application Schedule Is Right for Me?

The following at-a-glance guide offers quick scenarios to determine which college application schedule is right for you.

If you're thinking...

I have my heart set on one school and have always wanted to go there.

Use this application type:

Early decision

If you're thinking...

I have several top-choice colleges I wish to attend.

Use this application type:

Early action

If you're thinking...

I have not decided yet which universities would be right for me.

Use this application type:

Late admission

If you're thinking...

I want to apply early to find out whether my chances for acceptance are good, fair, or not likely.

Use this application type:

Early evaluation

If you're thinking...

I want to defer my enrollment for a year after my application is accepted to travel abroad, save money or obtain financial aid, or gain work experience through internships.

Use this application type:

Deferred admission

If you're thinking...

I want to choose an option with a long admission window that is flexible.

Use this application type:

Rolling admission

If you're thinking...

I wish to apply to my top-choice colleges all at once without agreeing to attend one particular school if accepted.

Use this application type:

Early action

If you're thinking...

I am a high school graduate with a lower-than-average GPA who wants to apply to a college.

Use this application type:

Open admission

If you're thinking...

I prefer to have a higher chance of getting accepted than applicants who choose regular admission.

Use this application type:

Early decision or early action

If you're thinking...

I have carefully picked my dream university and am confident about getting in.

Use this application type:

Early decision

We Can Help with the US College Application Process

Shorelight has been helping international students pursue top-ranked degrees in the US with college application assistance. Our advisors are always here to answer your questions about the application process, different admission types, required documentation, and more.

We work closely with many world-class universities in the US that actively enroll international students and offer more flexibility during the application process so you can apply with confidence.

Now that you know the different types of admissions that US colleges offer and when you should apply, take your time and plan your educational journey around the application process that makes sense for you. Since each university may have different admissions policies, reach out to an advisor to stay updated on what’s available to you.

See how a Shorelight counselor can help you apply to college in the US >