Timing. They say it’s everything. And when it comes to the college application process, they’re right!

Applying to colleges is stressful enough. You’ve got to score well on the SAT, write a personal essay that gets attention, and gather other application materials like recommendation letters. On top of this you’ve got to make sure you get all of these together and into prospective schools by a certain deadline!

So when exactly are college applications due for 2024? Well that depends.

Most schools have an enrollment period in the fall and spring, each offering a tiny window of time to get your application in. But there are some variants to these common deadlines you should be aware of, and we’re going to cover everything you need to know about applying to colleges.

*SPOILER ALERT*: If you’re an adult student, we’ve got good news. When you choose the right “adult-friendly” school, you don’t have to wait to apply for fall or spring because they offer year-round enrollment. At the end of the article, we’ll give you our “secret” to taking advantage of this and making the application deadlines simple and easy.


What are the Different Options for College Application Deadlines?

There are literally thousands of colleges and universities across the country, all of which may offer one (or more) of the following application deadline options:

  • Regular Decision (RD)
  • Early Action (EA)
  • Early Decision (ED)
  • Rolling Admission (RA)

The first three options, RD, EA and ED, all have set deadlines while RA offers a bit more flexibility.

The very first thing you need to do when getting ready to apply, is to research each school’s application policy and read carefully so you understand what is expected. For instance, some EA schools place restrictions on your application to other colleges. And often, ED involves a binding contract where you promise to enroll in the school should you be accepted.

It’s really important that you understand the rules completely and weigh all of the pros and cons of each option before deciding on which colleges to apply to.

Something else to keep in mind is financial aid. When you opt for early decision (ED) application, you are basically agreeing to enroll before getting to see your financial aid offer. For a lot of students, this could be a real deal breaker given the financial crunch people all around the world have been facing, especially students. If tuition cost is a concern for you, as it is for so many families, then your best bet is to look for schools that have nonbinding deadlines, such as EA and regular decision. This will allow you to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools.

I should also mention that OnlineDegree.com was created to help students save on their college education. We can help you find schools that not only offer open enrollment, making your life so much easier, but also schools that offer FREE courses, discounts and more, helping you save a ton of money!

Now that you understand each school will offer different options and that you need to carefully consider each one before committing, let’s take a closer look at each one.

Regular Decision Enrollment

Most students apply to school under regular decision. These are the schools that have the typical deadlines you have heard about, usually in the beginning of January. Good luck enjoying the holidays! While everyone else in the family is stuffing their faces and playing with their new gadgets, you’ll be rewriting your personal essay for the 1000th time (unless you choose an Adult-friendly school that doesn’t require essays or tests.)

But we digress…

The most common RD deadline is January 1st though January 15th is another popular due date. A major exception to these January deadlines is the University of California system whose deadline is quite early at November 30. Some schools also have later deadlines in February, March and April.

The most common scenario with RD schools is that you’ll apply sometime in January and will typically hear back from the school sometime in March or April. RD also has no restrictions, so you can apply to as many RD schools as you’d like.

Popular schools with RD deadlines include Columbia, Georgetown, Boston University, Dartmouth, John Hopkins and many more.

Early Action Enrollment

EA enrollment pushes your deadline earlier by a few months. The most common EA deadline is November 1 and November 15. These schools will usually have a yes or no answer for you sometime in December. Pretty quick!

There is a unique aspect to EA admissions. In addition to the common “accepted” or “denied” outcome, EA schools also have what’s called “getting deferred.” When you are deferred, it means your application lands in the regular applicant (non-EA) pile to be re-evaluated at a later time.

Should you go this route and get deferred, don’t despair. With more and more students applying to schools each year, deferrals are becoming increasingly common. It could be you’ll be accepted in the next review cycle. If you find yourself in deferral, consider sending your mid-year grades and updated test scores to improve your application.

There are a handful of popular schools that have a restrictive EA program that prevents you from applying to more than one school under EA. These schools include Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and the University of Notre Dame.

Early Decision Enrollment

You may have heard the phrase “early decision is binding” and wondered exactly what it meant. This refers to the contract that you (and your parent) sign when you apply under ED enrollment. Under this contract, you agree to enroll in the school should you be accepted.

Typically, applicants would only apply to one ED school to be safe. If and when you do receive the happy news, you’ll accept the offer, send in a deposit, and withdraw any other applications to other schools.

As we mentioned a bit earlier, this option can be risky for many students because you may find yourself agreeing to go to college before you’ve seen your financial aid offer. Financial aid has become increasingly important f0r the students due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting hard resulting in unemployment or potential medical expenses.  So while risky, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t go for this opportunity. It’s always a good idea to contact your dream school and speak to the financial aid office about what their process is like. Do they meet all demonstrated need? Is there any possibility of renegotiation if your offer isn’t what you thought it’d be? You’ll want clear answers before signing on that dotted line.

While the binding agreement is unique, as far as deadlines, you will have the same deadlines as EA schools, those are November 1 or November 15 and you’ll likely hear back in December.

Some popular schools with early decision enrollment include Duke, Rice and Brown Universities.

So far, all of the application options we’ve looked at have specific set deadlines. To be considered, you MUST get your application, test scores, essay and all other materials in on time.

But, as we mentioned earlier, there’s one other option that offers a bit more flexibility for students, and that is rolling admissions.

Rolling Admissions Enrollment

A school that offers rolling admissions gives applicants a window of time in which to submit their application and supporting materials. This window typically ranges from fall to the spring. Penn State is an example. They make their application available on September 1 and review submissions on a rolling basis.

Having said this, some schools that offer rolling admissions also have what’s called a priority deadline in November or December. Penn State’s priority deadline is November 30. So if you find a school you are super excited about, you should do your best to meet the priority deadline as it gives applicants priority.

Even with those schools that are pure RA and don’t have a priority deadline, it’s a good idea to get your application in as early as possible because RA, as you may have guessed, is done on a first come, first served basis. There is always the likelihood that spots fill up, so do your best to get your application in early.

And unlike ED and some EA programs, RA programs are not restrictive, so you are free to apply anywhere else you’d like.

Some popular schools with RA programs include Penn State University, University of Pittsburgh, Michigan State, University of Maine, University of New Haven, and the University of Tulsa.

You’ll probably want to read through this first section again so you are certain you understand everything about the different application deadlines and programs. As a reminder, it’s really important that you FULLY review each school’s policy so you know exactly what their application rules are.

Once you feel confident that you understand each policy, you can begin to focus on submitting the strongest application possible.

Want the Application Process Secret?  – Open Enrollment

If you’re an adult student that’s read this far, you might be thinking, “Gee, this all still sounds so complicated. I’ve got a family and full-time job and I don’t have the time to dedicate to this application process.”

And, you’d be right.

Well you’re in luck, because in recent years, adult-friendly college education programs have become increasingly available and popular, particularly among adult learners, that offer enrollment all year long.  Yep, no windows for applications. It’s usually called Open Enrollment.

In other words, you could starting learning today, and not have to wait!

To give you a quick summary, working adults have very different needs than normal high school students enrolling into college. Because of that, many universities have adapted their degree programs to be more accommodating for a busy adult. This includes things like online, better support, flexible scheduling, more affordable, career focus degrees, and much much more.

Including making applications far easier with open enrollment.

Here’s why we love these adult friendly schools:

  • Online degree programs not only offer flexibility and customization, they also cost far less and don’t require moving to an out of state school, or even a commute to a local community college.
  • These schools also do not normally require you to submit additional materials such as standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, or a resume.
  • Many courses start any time and the degrees can be completed entirely on your own schedule.

Learning at whatever time is convenient for you is such a benefit to adult learners who have a job and family responsibilities. Learn when is convenient for you and never miss an important business function or your child’s little league game.

When thinking about going to college to get your degree, it’s easy to focus on traditional methods of learning. After all, they’ve been around a long time! But non-tradition education makes a lot of sense for anyone who has time or budget constraints, or who, for whatever reason, can’t make or has already missed important application deadlines at other traditional schools.

How Do I find Open Enrollment and Adult-friendly Schools?

You’re in luck, we can help.

I created OnlineDegree.com to help make college more affordable and accessible…for Free.

That means helping people identify the right schools to fit their situation and schedule, AND to find ways to save time and money.

Get started for free in 60 seconds by clicking here to get your own SmartPlan.  We’ll help you figure out which schools are the best fit, and ways to potentially save.

In addition, we have many FREE online courses you could take to count towards your degree from the comfort of your own home.

Get Started

If you’re an adult student that is looking to earn your education with as little hassle or expense a possible, then online degrees are the way to go. And if you want to find the best school and save time and money on your education, then OnlineDegree.com is here to help you.

Take a minute (it literally only takes 60 seconds) to enroll with us right now.

About the Author
Grant founded OnlineDegree.com with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.