After all the work that goes into applying for college—researching schools, taking entrance exams, writing essays—students probably welcome a feeling of relief once that application is officially submitted.
The relief may be instant, but also fleeting. The next phase of getting into college can be painstaking because it’s the waiting phase. Waiting to get those letters in the mail for the result of all that effort can be frustrating.
One thing that can help to minimize the stress during this waiting period is finding out when those decision letters are sent out! Once it’s more clear when your acceptance letters will be arriving, it might be easier to relax in the meantime.
So, how long does it take to get accepted into college after applying? Acceptance letters don’t have one standard date for being sent out. There are a few different types of college applications with different submission dates and, therefore, different dates when the decisions go out.
Check out these different types of applications and see how their submission deadlines and acceptance date periods differ.
Types of Applications
Just as there isn’t a standard date for acceptance letters to be sent out, there isn’t one standard submission date for applications, either. There are a few early submission options available, as well as regular submission and rolling admissions. The due date of the application will depend on which type of application is being submitted, and this will also determine when you receive the school’s decision.
There are a few options for applying early: early decision, early action, and single-choice early action.
The early decision application is binding, meaning that students who are accepted are committed to enrolling. Because this application is binding, students can only apply to one school as an early decision. These applications are due in November and the decisions go out in December. If students decide to apply with this early decision option, this school should be their top choice, the one they’d prefer to go to over all others.
The early action application is similar to the early decision in regard to the due date (due in November) and decision timeframe (decisions go out in December), but it differs in that it isn’t binding. It’s okay to apply to multiple schools via early action, and if you’re accepted you’re not required to enroll.
Single Choice Early Action
This option is similar to the early decision in that students can only apply to one school this way, but it’s not binding. If students choose to apply to a school via single-choice early action, it’s a way of saying they’re especially interested in attending that school. The deadline and acceptance period is the same as the other early options.
When it comes to applying early, no matter which type of early application you choose, the applications will usually be due in November and decisions will be sent out in December.
Regular decision applications are the most common of the application options. For these applications, the deadline is usually in January or February and the decision letters go out by April. The deadline for submitting your application will differ between schools, so make sure to check the website for each school and mark the dates on a calendar.
Rolling admission allows students to apply until the school runs out of space. Sometimes applications are accepted until April, and sometimes even later. Students are encouraged to apply using the same deadline as the regular decision to have a better chance of being accepted before the colleges run out of spaces.
Some colleges will also have differing numbers of spots open based on specific majors, so it’s important to check that availability at each school the student is applying to. If the major the student lists on an application is impacted at some schools, it might be better to apply by the deadline for regular applications since impacted majors are likely to have more students apply than there are spots available. The average turnaround for rolling admission is about four to six weeks , so the date that decisions are sent out will depend on when students submit their application.
For students who are still undecided about where to go to college, check out this quiz for help deciding on a type of college. Once students have a list of schools they’d like to go to, they can rank them by preference and start deciding when to apply.
The Dreaded Waitlist
After waiting for one to two months to receive a school’s decision, it can be frustrating to open that letter or email and see that there’s more waiting to do. Being on the school’s waitlist isn’t necessarily bad, however.
There are many reasons that students end up on the waitlist. They may have met the academic criteria to get into the school, but the school might not have space yet for these students.
Most schools will require students to contact them and accept their spot on the waitlist to be considered for admission, so don’t forget that step.
Since the number of students that can be accepted from a waitlist depends on the number of students who choose to enroll, students on the waitlist won’t hear back until after decision day.
Decision day is May 1st, and it’s the day that seniors are required to notify their school that they accept their admission and will enroll.
After the decision day, the schools will know how many students will enroll, and then they’ll be able to start accepting students from the waitlist if there’s space. This means students on the waitlist can expect to hear back from their school by the end of May, but sometimes it can take up until the Fall semester starts to hear back.
Paying for College
Planning for college goes beyond getting accepted. Once accepted, students have to figure out how they’ll be paying for tuition, books, and housing. Luckily, there are many good options for financing higher education, which can include financial aid from the government (grants and/or loans), scholarships, and private loans.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the form students will need to complete as the first step in applying for student aid. Depending on a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), they may be eligible for federal student loans, grants, or work-study.
Grants don’t usually have to be repaid, but loans do. The amount of aid students can receive from the federal government will depend on their financial need, so not everyone will be eligible.
Federal student loans come with some benefits that are not guaranteed by private student loans, like lower fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options. This is important to take into account when choosing where to take out loans.
Scholarships can be merit based, meaning they’re awarded based on some kind of achievement, or need based. There are many scholarships available, and it’s perfectly acceptable to apply to as many as possible to further the chances of receiving one—or more. Some scholarships are specific to a school or the local community, so check your school’s website for information.
Private loans may be another option for paying for college. Since every financial institution is different, it’s good to do some research first and explore options available. Loan amounts and rates will depend on an applicant’s financial situation. Factors such as an applicant’s credit history and income are typically taken into account, and those with little of either may need a cosigner to be approved for a private loan.
To learn more about private student loans, college-bound students—and their parents—might want to check out this guide to private student loans. It’s fairly common to use multiple avenues to fund a college education.
Even if the cost of attendance might be covered by scholarships, grants, or federal student loans, there may be other costs of living a student might need assistance for. That’s where private student loans can be helpful when considered responsibly.
It’s difficult to anticipate every cost that might pop up, and private student loans are an option at any time throughout the school year, not just before the term starts.
Taking some time to think about college costs and how to pay for the upcoming years of education can be a wise way to spend that time waiting for all of those acceptance letters to come rolling in.
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