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Understand US University Application Systems: Procedures and Strategies

Applying for colleges in the United States can be a daunting process, especially for those who are not familiar with the different admissions terms and procedures. In this article, we will provide an overview of the common types of procedures: Regular Admissions, Rolling Admissions, Early Admissions, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action and Early Decision.

Overview of US University Application Systems


The US university application system is not unified and can be quite confusing, with different deadlines and application methods. In this article, we will briefly explain the differences between the application modes and provide strategies for allocating the schools to increase your chances of getting in. You will be able to find more from our embedded video.


Regular Admissions

Regular admissions are the most common form of application. Deadlines vary, for example with the University of California's deadline on November 30th, and many other universities closing their applications on January 1st or later. Results are typically received in March or April.


Rolling Admissions

Rolling admissions is a process where schools evaluate applications as they are received, rather than waiting until the application deadline. This means that students can submit their applications at any time without a deadline from the school, and the school will review them on a rolling basis (i.e.a first-come, first-served basis). These schools often continue to accept students until May or June. Rolling admissions can be advantageous for students who are late in the application process or who want to keep their options open until the last minute.


Early Admissions

Early admissions allow students to apply and receive results one or two months earlier than regular admissions. There are more than 400 universities in the US offering early admission. Early admission has different plans which can affect the chances of getting in:


I. Early Action (EA): A non-binding agreement, meaning it is not necessary for you to attend the school if accepted. You can apply to multiple schools through EA. Through this process, students normally want to get a guarantee in mid-December or January that they can enter the safety school and rush to the more difficult schools on 1st January.


II. Early Decision (ED): A binding agreement, meaning you can only apply to one school and must attend if accepted. There are two ED deadlines (i.e. ED1 and ED2).

  • ED1 is normally set for November 1st and required to the attend the applied school if accepted;

  • ED2 is normally set for January 1st, which is the deadline for regular application but still requires a commitment to attend. This is also the same as a regular application, the result will be released in March to April.

If you fail in ED1, it will usually result in two situations:

  1. The school will reject you directly if your grades are not good or they do not like you.

  2. If the school you are applying to is not your favorite while there are other people who are better than you, they will put you in the regular application pool. At this point, you can think about whether you will choose another school to apply for ED2.

III. Restrictive Early Action (REA): A non-binding agreement but limited to applying to only one school. Top schools like Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton use this method. If you register a school through REA, you are not required to go after the school that accepts you.

It is important to distinguish between ED and REA while at the same time having similar advantages. You may refer to the below comparison tables, illustrating the similarities (Table 1) and differences (Table 2) as an overview:

Table 1: Similar advantages

Table 2: Differences

The most popular choice is Early Decision and it is generally known as more advantageous in applying for a school, as it allows the school to ensure its yield is 100% for each student. Yield is the number of students who attend the school every year, directly affecting its reputation and ranking.


Application Strategy

First, identify your dream school, where you would definitely attend if accepted, and apply through Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action. Then, choose 3 to 4 schools for Early Action, focusing on more conservative options.


If you receive an acceptance through Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action, you are set. If not, apply to other schools on your list through regular application. Rolling admissions can be used as a backup if early applications are unsuccessful.


Preparation and Support

Success in the application process requires preparation, including strong SAT scores, school results, extracurricular activities, and well-crafted essays. If you have any questions about the application process, you can contact us directly on our website for assistance.


If you would like a comprehensive explanation of all the different types of admissions procedures American colleges employ, please check out our YouTube video below.


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