When a student or parent looks at college applications, whether on-line or on paper, they will be allowed to apply using varying methods including regular decision, early action and early decision. Many colleges also use terminology called rolling admissions or simply give an application deadline.
When a college sets an application deadline or they tell you that you can apply "any time", they are following a "regular admissions" timeline. When a college gives you a deadline, you must submit all applications materials to the school by that set date. This includes high school transcripts (sent directly by the Guidance Office to the college), test scores, letters of reference and other supporting materials. Many colleges with regular decision deadlines will not report a decision to the candidate until the latter part of March.
Many of our state system institutions (Mansfield, Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, Shippensburg, etc.) operate on a rolling admissions system. In many cases the student will hear back from a rolling admissions institution quickly - as soon as four to six weeks after applying.
Although rolling admissions means they can apply any time, at Troy we highly encourage our seniors to apply as early as they can. There are three reasons for this. First it reduces stress. Getting that first application out of the way and possibly getting an acceptance early in the senior year is gratifying and takes off some pressure. Second, an early application may help a marginal applicant get looked at harder and increase their chances of getting admitted. Finally, although many colleges describe themselves as rolling admissions schools, many times they offer majors that have specific deadlines or are highly popular. Waiting till February to apply could result in a rejection. Mansfield's elementary education program for example is very popular, making it highly selective and one that fills quickly. Their health professions programs are another example. Usually if a student has not applied for Radiology, Respiratory Therapy or Nursing at Mansfield by January, they have a very good chance of not getting in even if they have the credentials.
Students applying regular decision can apply to as many colleges as they want or their parents can afford the applications fees for!
Some selective and highly selective colleges offer the option of applying "early decision". With early decision, a student can apply in the fall and usually get a decision by December. So these students get an answer as much as four months earlier than a student who applies regular decision.
The catch with early decisions is that the student, if accepted, is making a commitment to only that school. Some colleges do not permit students to apply to other colleges until they have received their early decision notification. If accepted, you have to go to that school. The real downside to this is that you will not be able to compare financial aid offers from other colleges. You are stuck with the package you get from that school, even if it isn't acceptable. Even if a college releases you from your early decision obligation, it won't happen until March - almost too late in the application process to go to other desirable colleges.
Early Action is preferable, in my opinion, to early decision. Early action does not require you to commit to go to that school if you are accepted. Early action helps you find out sooner about your status, but you can choose to go elsewhere if the financial aid package is better or your preferences change.
When making any decisions about applying early decision or early action, we advise that you contact the Guidance Office if you have any questions about the application process.