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College Resources

Admissions Lingo

Applying to college can often be a dizzying experience, complete with complex decisions and lots of paperwork.  Naturally, to complicate matters, admissions offices rely on application jargon.  Make sure you know the scoop by reviewing the terms below:
Early Decision: You’ve probably heard this term bandied about already.  When applicants have a clear top choice, they often contemplate applying early decision. Early decision candidates submit an application for an earlier deadline and are considered against a smaller number of applicants.  Typically, early decision deadlines fall around October or November and schools mail their letters by mid December.  Some people see early decision as advantageous because they’re telling a school, “You’re my number one pick!”  Further, if accepted, you don’t have to allocate time or money (not to mention stress) to additional applications.  However, there is one caveat.  Early decision is binding.  Therefore, you must commit if you’re accepted.  While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with commitment, applicants in need of financial aid should recognize that this won’t give them the opportunity to compare packages.  And sadly, you cannot guarantee your dream school will offer adequate aid.
Early Action: Similar to early decision, students who apply early action submit their materials by an earlier deadline (again around October or November, depending on the school).  The school will render a decision by mid December.  However, unlike early decision, early action is not binding.  Therefore, students are free to apply to any additional schools of interest.  The advantage is that, assuming students are accepted, they can tweak their lists accordingly and only apply to a smaller, targeted number of dream schools.  And, more importantly, said students can apply with the pressure off!
Deferred Decision: When admissions committees review early applications, they often make a definitive decision – accept or reject.  Sometimes, however, they want more time to evaluate a candidate and to compare them with the larger, regular applicant pool. Consequently, they will defer their decision until then.
Regular Admission/Decision: The traditional college application option, regular decision is when the bulk of candidates usually apply.  Though it varies by school, most regular decision apps are due by early January.  Applicants usually receive notification in early April.  Unlike early decision, no regular admission acceptances are binding.
Rolling Admission: Colleges who have adopted a rolling admission policy typically assess applications as they receive them.  Candidates are often notified of the school’s decision within a few weeks of submission.  Applications are usually accepted until all spots are filled.  Despite not having a firm deadline, the sooner you complete your application, the better.  Competition for admission becomes tighter as space fills.
Wait Listed: As you’re already (painfully) aware, colleges are unable to accept all qualified applicants.  That’s just the unfortunate nature of the higher education game. However, universities do strive to fill as many available spaces as possible.  Moreover, they can never be sure how many accepted students will ultimately decide to enroll elsewhere.  Enter the wait list.
The wait list is composed of talented students who, for whatever reason, did not make the original cut.  If spots are still open in the freshmen class once all decisions have been mailed back, universities will begin offering admission to those on their wait lists. Unfortunately, there’s no set/defined notification period for those who have been wait listed.  A wait listed student could hear back within two weeks or they could receive a letter the week before the semester begins.  Of course, there’s also a high probability an applicant will not get off the list.  Therefore, it’s common to enroll in another school to ensure you have somewhere to attend.  You can always withdraw if you do eventually receive that coveted acceptance.
Deferred Admission: Sometimes, students will apply to college and then come to the realization that they don’t want to enroll immediately (i.e. for the upcoming semester).  Therefore, after they’ve been accepted at a school, they might inquire as to whether or not it’s possible to postpone their start dates (hence deferred admission).  Many schools will let rising freshmen defer their enrollment for one academic year.
Open Enrollment: Open enrollment is a policy in which any high school graduate will automatically gain admission, regardless of transcript, until all places are filled.  This policy is typically the provenance of two-year community colleges.


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Don Munce