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Don’t be confused by the different U.S. university deadlines. Use this guide to make sure you apply to your schools on time

What’s in a date? November 1, December 1, January 1 and May 1 are four simple days out the year, but for many U.S. universities, these dates have significant meaning. Whether you’re submitting an application or notifying a college you wish to attend, there are several college application deadlines in the U.S. that international students need to know.

Types of college admissions deadlines

Generally, there are four types of deadlines international students may see when applying to U.S. colleges and universities.

1. Rolling admissions

Rolling admissions means applications are reviewed on an on-going basis throughout the year, with no set deadline for applications.

Institutions with rolling admissions policies are generally less selective. However, these colleges and universities provide the greatest flexibility for international students applying to the United States.

2. Early action

Typically, early action (EA) applicants must apply by a set date between mid-October and mid-November at selective institutions. If you are admitted early action, you receive a decision by mid-December.
While most colleges do not require EA applicants to attend if admitted, some do. In those cases, international students should apply EA only if they truly wish to attend that college.

3. Early decision

Early decision (ED) is similar to early action. ED deadlines occur either on November 1 or November 15, with decisions made by mid-December.

The major difference is that, if you are admitted, the decision is binding. In other words, you must attend a college that admits you ED. In fact, when you apply, you—along with your school counselor and your parents— must sign a contract indicating you understand that if you required to attend your ED school if you are admitted.
International students should carefully consider only one university if they intend to apply as an early decision applicant.

4. Regular decision

For most international students, applying to universities with regular decision (RD) deadlines is the way to go if you are unsure which institution you wish to attend.

Most U.S. colleges set RD deadlines for January or early February. There are some outlier schools, like those in the University of California system, which set a November 30th date for students.

Special note: For international students who want to attend a selective college or university, but do not have the right test scores, there are several institutions that offer pathway programs with rolling admissions.

These pathway programs allow students to take a mix of English language and academic courses in their first year, then transition to full degree studies in year two.

Postmarked by or delivered by?

International students often want to know if U.S. university deadlines are strict or flexible. According to international admissions officers at different institutions, U.S. university admissions deadlines are strictly enforced.

For most colleges, this means that all required materials must be postmarked by or received by the application deadline. The answer to the postmarked/received question will vary depending on the college.

Decision Day – May 1

Perhaps the most important date for international students who want to study at U.S. colleges and universities is May 1.

This date is called National Decision Day. You should know which university you wish to attend by National Decision Day, and you should notify the school of your choice. If you do not notify your college of choice by May 1, including submitting your tuition deposit, you could lose your place.

Explore international-friendly universities or connect with a counselor.