Apply to vetted scholarship programs in one clickAdvertiser disclosure
Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.
Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.
What is Regular Decision?
You might think that applying to college is as simple as sending your application and hearing back about if you are accepted or not, but the truth is, the college admissions process is a little more complicated than that. Colleges usually offer a few different rounds of admissions for students with varying deadlines. All of these rounds will mostly require the same information, but one admission round might be more suited to you than another. Let’s jump in and find out why!
Regular and early decision
Regular decision, early decision and early action might be terms that you’ve heard before, but what do they mean? Before we take an in-depth look at regular decision, let’s take a very broad look at all three to give you a better foundation.
- Early decision: Early decision applicants submit an application, usually before Nov 15, in order to find out about their acceptance in December and must commit to attend the college much sooner than early action and regular decision applicants
- Early action: Students will again submit an application, usually before Nov 15, and find out about their acceptance in December, but do not need to commit until around May
- Regular decision: Students will submit an application, usually by Jan 1, and hear back about their acceptance around March or April, and usually make their decision around May
Regular decision should never be seen as less than, or not as good as early action or early decision. There might be some very good points that would make your regular application much better than your early application. Below are some of those reasons.
Extra time to improve your grades
Perhaps you didn’t do as well as you would have liked in your classes during junior year or earlier in your high school courses but feel confident you can improve your grades in the fall of senior year, it may be advantageous for you to apply regular decision. Colleges like to see improvements in grades, especially in senior year when it can be challenging to stay engaged in classes and avoid the senior slump!
Bettering ACT/SAT test scores
Applying as a regular decision applicant may give you just enough time to take the ACT or SAT one more time, which means you have enough time to try and improve your score.
Check with your school if this is required or optional. Including your test scores may not be something you want to do if it is optional. Additionally, taking the ACT or the SAT can be time consuming and may cost money Remember, you can also submit updated ACT or SAT scores after you’ve applied and ask admissions to reconsider your application with the new information!
More time for your essay(s)
Another great reason why regular decision might be worth waiting to apply to, is that it gives you more time to write your essays and more time to gather experience. It might take some time to figure out what you want to write about yourself or how to respond to the common application essay prompts, and that’s okay. If you’re having trouble with your essays, take the time to seek help and write a good application instead of rushing through it.
More time to visit colleges
Waiting a little longer to apply to college means that you have more time to tour colleges that you are applying to. If possible, it is always a good idea to see the colleges you are applying to. During COVID many schools created in-depth virtual tours that showed students around dorms, dining facilities, class buildings and more. At the very least, you should take advantage of these virtual tours!
Finally, because the various colleges you visit may offer you various financial opportunities, it is not always in your best interest to apply through early decision. It’s important to know how financial aid and early decision affect each other. If finances are an important deciding factor for you, then applying to regular decision might give you a better chance to view all your options and see what’s best for you.
What does it mean if I am deferred or waitlisted rather than accepted as a regular decision applicant?
If a college does not accept you initially, they may defer you to the following application round where your application will be reviewed again, and a decision will be made about your admissions. If you are deferred, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the road. If you are put on a waitlist, things become slightly more complicated.
Waitlisted students are a pool of backup applicants selected by the college in case they need more students. If you are put on the waitlist, your college should send you instructions about what your next steps are. However, this is also a time for you to really assess what school you want to attend. Being put on the waitlist is not a definitive no, but it’s also something you should be realistic about. It may mean that you need to pursue a different school for enrollment in the fall.
What’s right for you?
The college admissions process is different for every person. When you apply depends on the factors addressed above and more. If possible, sit down and discuss with a parent or school counselor about when they think it might be best for you to apply. Seeking help from others is an important part of this process. And remember, as overwhelming as applying to college may feel, your effort and dedication to this process will pay off! You can do this!
What is regular decision versus rolling admission?
When should I apply to college if I plan to take a gap year?