Deadlines & Early Decision
You must meet your deadlines! US universities will not accept late applications unless they have ‘rolling admissions’, meaning they accept students on a first-come, first-served basis.
Most deadlines occur between January and February, although they can be as early as November and as late as March. You must send your university everything they ask for, all of it in perfect order (follow the instructions very carefully) well before the deadline.
When submitting your application electronically (eg via the Common App website) then make sure you know the deadline for pushing 'send'. If you are sending by snail mail, the date posted counts for nothing; if you are close to a deadline, send your application by an express service that will require a signature on delivery.
For Regular applications, the good news of your acceptances will generally arrive in April.
However, you may have heard about...
Early Decision/Early Action
Students who have planned well in advance and are keen to attend a particular university may wish to consider ‘Early Decision' or 'Early Action’.
Early Action is a non-binding plan that requires students to submit their applications in early autumn. Notification of acceptance is made by January, but students have until 1 May to accept or reject the offer.
The advantage is you will know much earlier and can plan accordingly. The disadvantage is that candidates who apply this way tend to be much stronger and rejection is more likely than in the regular admission pool.
Early Decision is a legally binding plan following the same timescale as Early Action. By applying Early Decision, you are making a commitment, should you be accepted, to attend the university.
For this reason, you can only choose one university to apply as an Early Decision candidate.
Reneging on an offer of admission could mean that no other university will admit you, so make sure your heart is absolutely set on this college before you send off the forms.
To consider either of these plans, you will need to be clearly focused and will need to prepare well in advance. The deadline is generally around 1 November for the submission of application materials.