Fall college applications are right around the corner. Keep track of the most common deadlines for applying to college using this complete guide.

College Application Deadlines for Fall 2021 Admission

  • Most applications open on August 1 for students applying for fall 2021 enrollment.
  • College deadlines most often fall between November and February.
  • Early admission means preparing your application sooner in your senior year.
  • Regular decision gives you more time to work on college essays and take exams.

When Do College Applications Open for 2021-2022?

Most college applications — including the Common Application and the Coalition for College — will open on August 1, 2020, for students who plan to start school in fall 2021. That said, students may complete the general application components at any time before this date.

Colleges that maintain proprietary applications, such as Brigham Young University and Georgetown University, can vary in their open dates but generally become available in August or September.

While most schools require similar application components, different admission options allow you to submit your application by different deadlines. The four basic options are early action, early decision, regular decision, and rolling admission.

Regardless of when you apply, you'll need to submit a college essay (or several depending on the school), recommendation letters, official high school transcripts, and standardized test scores.

A wioman wearing a cable-knit cardigan sits at a desk taking notes off her laptop computer in a brightly lit bedroom.

What You Need to Apply to College

  • Standardized Test Scores

    These typically consist of your SAT/ACT scores and any other exam scores required for admission, such as those from SAT Subject Tests. Not all schools require the SAT/ACT, so check with your schools about whether you'll need to submit any score reports. Note that you may be able to list your unofficial scores on your application without having to send in official scores until after you've been admitted.

  • Official Transcripts

    Get a copy of your official high school transcript so you can self-report your grades and classes on your application. You'll likely need to send official transcripts to your schools, too.

  • Letters of Recommendation

    Ask teachers and counselors for recommendations at the end of your junior year or start of your senior year so you can obtain these documents quickly; this is especially important if you're applying early action or early decision. You'll usually need around one to two letters depending on your schools.

  • College Essay(s)

    Start your personal statement(s) the summer before your senior year to give yourself time to brainstorm topics, work through multiple drafts, and get feedback.

College Application Deadlines for Fall 2021

Application Deadline Admission Decision
Early Action November December
Early Decision November December
Regular Decision January/February March/April
Rolling Admission Varies depending on how quickly spots fill up Depends on when you submit your application

Early Action Deadlines

Many schools offer early action deadlines, which allow students to apply early and find out whether they were accepted ahead of the regular admission pool.

While the most common early action deadlines are in early to mid-November, you should check with each of your prospective schools, as their deadlines may be sooner or later than these.

By applying early action, you can expect to receive an admission decision around December.

Early action is a great option for students who want an early admission decision without having to commit to a school.

Early action is a great option for students who want an early admission decision without having to commit to a school. Unlike early decision, early action doesn't require you to commit to attending that particular school should you get admitted. It also doesn't require a response until the national May 1 response deadline, giving students ample time to compare college offers.

Another potential outcome of applying early action is deferment, or when your application is pushed to the regular decision applicant pool. Although nobody wants to be deferred, this response provides students with the opportunity to reach out to the school and strengthen their application for regular decision admittance.

Early Decision Deadlines

Early decision resembles early action in that students apply to a college and hear back early, typically by mid-December. Unlike early action, however, early decision comes with a binding agreement to enroll.

In other words, once you're accepted, you must pay the nonrefundable deposit and withdraw all of your other college applications. This is why students applying early decision should be completely set on attending a particular school.

One major caveat of early decision is that you're entering an agreement without seeing your financial aid offer. For those depending on financial aid to cover the majority of their tuition, this fact can pose a serious concern.

Some schools may help you explore additional aid options, but adjustments aren't guaranteed. As such, early decision may not be a viable option for every student.

Regular Decision Deadlines

Most students apply to college under regular decision; these deadlines most commonly fall in January or February. Students often hear back from their prospective schools in March or April and are required to follow up with a response by May 1.

Regular decision gives students more time to gather materials, prepare their college essays, and take or retake tests like the SAT/ACT.

As the widest application window, regular decision offers students the most time to gather materials, prepare their essays, and take standardized tests. For students considering multiple colleges, these deadlines can give you additional time to carefully consider your options.

The downside of waiting until the final window means that if you're deferred or denied entry into your target school, you might have to wait until the following semester or academic year to reapply.

Rolling Admission and Transfer Application Deadlines

Rather than maintaining set deadlines, colleges with rolling admission evaluate applications as they come in and usually offer several application windows each year. In general, these schools accept and review applications until all spots in the upcoming class are filled.

While schools' application windows can vary widely, most institutions open up admissions early in the fall around September 1. This window can last all the way through spring, depending on how many spots remain, though some schools may follow the May 1 college deadline.

Rolling admission windows open each year around September 1 and remain open until all available spots in the class have been filled.

A rolling admission policy is one that many schools use to evaluate transfer applicants as well.

Transfer students should begin the application process well ahead of their prospective school's posted application deadline. Each school maintains its own application window and transfer credit policies, so make sure you carefully read over the requirements before applying.

Although there's a chance your high school transcript may come into consideration, it's more likely that your transfer school's admissions board will evaluate your college transcript. All transfer students should request letters of recommendation, obtain official college transcripts, and submit their applications by March or April for admission that fall.

A woman with bangs and round glasses smiles at someone giving a presentation off-camera while sitting in a classroom.

When to Apply for College in the Fall

Applying to college entails a considerable amount of planning. While you can start some parts at the beginning of your senior year of high school, it's recommended that you request recommendation letters and take the SAT/ACT your junior year. This tip is especially important for those planning to apply for an early admission decision.

Early action and early decision are ideal options for students who are prepared to apply early their senior year. Often resulting in an admission decision by mid-December, these options give students plenty of time to relax and enjoy their final semester of high school.

Additionally, students who apply early to college may enjoy higher acceptance rates than regular decision applicants.

To meet an early deadline, you should begin the application process the summer before your senior year, focusing your efforts on writing your essay(s), gathering letters of recommendation, and taking (or retaking) the SAT/ACT.

Most students apply to college under regular decision, though early action and early decision are growing in popularity.

Though early admission is growing in popularity, most students opt for the regular decision window.

For students who need additional time to compare schools, perfect their essays, or retake the SAT/ACT, regular decision may be your best option. Be sure to request letters of recommendation by September of your senior year, as teachers tend to get extremely busy in late fall due to mid-terms and other recommendation requests.

As you consider your options and prepare your college application materials, remember that no one student is the same. If you don't feel your application is ready to submit by an earlier deadline, hold off until the regular decision deadline. If you're ready to apply early, though, then take the leap and enjoy the rest of high school without the looming stress of college applications.

Whichever deadline you decide works best for you, just make sure you feel confident when you submit your application.