College Planning: Application Deadlines Matter

BY: Brent Landrum

Your child has created a short list of universities he or she is interested in applying to. Does it matter if they apply sooner versus later? The short answer is YES! However, one isn’t better than the other…it depends on your situation.

Let’s start with some definitions. There are two types of application deadlines:

  1. Early admission application deadline
  2. Regular admission application deadline
Early admission application deadlines vary, but generally fall somewhere between Nov. 1 – Dec. 1 (check your specific school’s website for details).

Regular admission application deadlines can fall anywhere between Jan. 1 and mid-August.

Different universities have different policies regarding the level of commitment your application implies. Very selective schools (think Ivy League) only want to review serious applicants. If you apply during the early admission process and get accepted, some schools will consider your application an acceptance of an offer to attend. Luckily, most schools do not create these types of limits.

According to the College Board website:

  • Early Decision applications are “binding,” which means a student who applies for Early Decision must commit to attend that college if accepted.
  • Early Action applications are “nonbinding,” which means the student simply receives an early response to their application—often relieving some stress—but the student does not have to commit or make a decision about whether or not to attend that school until the normal reply date (usually May 1).
There are some benefits to each process and timeline. If your child is not sure about which school he or she likes best, then having more time to think about their options might be best. On the flip side, they might benefit from knowing which schools they got into when mulling over the final decision.

Your child may benefit from taking the ACT or SAT again to try to raise their score. In that case, a later application might make sense.

One big advantage to applying early, though, is that many schools automatically review your child’s application for scholarship opportunities IF THEY ARE RECEIVED DURING THE EARLY APPLICATION WINDOW. This is an important consideration if you think scholarships might be a possibility.

The Basics: College Applications 101

Paying attention to college application deadlines can be a daunting task with everything else going on in one’s life.  It’s important to remember that applying early benefits you in many ways.  The student can be notified of admission status sooner and will have access to more financial aid and scholarships than those that apply later.  In addition, the family unit can begin preparing for the new college student’s next chapter much sooner.  Let’s dive into deadlines and application materials.

When Should I Apply?

  • The sooner the better! Colleges and universities typically review applications as they come in.  So being on top of your game can benefit the student.
  • Applications now available. Applications, on average, are available to begin filling out September 1. These applications are for the following school year.  (A September 1, 2018 application is for the 2019-2020 school year.)
  • Check deadlines for your specific school(s). The latest you can submit an application is on or around the 23rd of August for the current school year. This date could vary depending on the school so be sure to check their website. UW-Madison, for example, has a regular application deadline of February 1st, so don’t delay.

What Do I need for My Application?

  • The application. This can be found on either the state education website for state schools or the individual school’s website.
  • Application fee. Schools won’t process an application without this, so don’t forget to pay!
  • Official transcripts. These can be obtained from your current school.  They can further address their process and what you need to do. Many schools now use a service for sending transcripts that requires some lead time and a fee. Give yourself plenty of time to meet the deadlines.
  • ACT/SAT scores. Once you have completed one or both of these tests, the student can request to have scores sent to colleges and universities of their choice. This request can be done at the time of taking the test (included in the cost for up to four schools) or can be done on their respective websites for a fee per school. Note that these scores can take several days to send, so plan accordingly.
  • Extra items. Some schools may ask for letters of recommendation, but not all require it.  Find out if they are needed and prepare these in advance.  As far as academics, extra-curriculars, and community involvement, the application tends to cover these.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the application process.  Do your homework and know what each school needs.  Then, make a plan and stick to it.  The rewards will outweigh the application headaches!

Watch for more information on planning for college expenses each month in this newsletter. If you would like help in deciphering your financial aid situation, contact or call (608) 828-2282.

Brent Landrum

Related Blogs

Sign Up For Our Newsletter