By Margo Bartsch, Contributor

The Monopoly board game has the infamous “Go to Jail” corner space and Chance and Community Chest cards. The player is at a crossroads to pay $50 now, delay and hope to toss the dice for doubles to get out of jail free, or wait until the last moment and pay $50 if three throws are unsuccessful. This risk assessment is comparable to analyzing the various timing tradeoffs when applying to college. Similarly, there are often three application deadline considerations: Early Decision (ED) binding commitment; Early Action (EA) non-binding option; and Regular Decision (Regular) typical deadline. These deadlines each have distinct advantages depending on the student’s preparedness to have their application rise to the top.

First, Early Decision is a binding commitment to attend the favorite college if admitted. A student can only apply ED to one college. The application date ranges from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15. The typical ED notification date is around Dec. 15 to hear whether admitted, waitlisted or rejected. It is important to check whether a college offers ED (and ED-2 in January) and the application deadline. The Common Application requires three signatures from the student, parent or guardian, and guidance counselor agreeing to specific ED terms.

ED is a binding decision because the student could benefit from admissions advantages. For the 2020-21 applications, Cornell University published that its College of Arts & Sciences admitted approximately 20 percent of ED applicants, compared to 5.5 percent of Regular applicants. However, Cornell clearly states, “Early Decision applicants are thoroughly convinced—and are therefore often able to convince us—that they would both thrive in the College of Arts & Sciences and contribute to our Cornell community.” If admitted ED to Cornell, the student must confirm attendance by early January.

Cornell demands that an ED-admitted student not only agrees to attend, but also must withdraw applications to other colleges. This is a similar policy with most ED colleges. Thus, if a student is admitted to Cornell ED and also applied to other colleges EA or Regular, they would have to turn down other acceptances or may not even hear if a college admitted them. For example, the University of California only has a Regular application date of Nov. 1 with notification around April 1. Thus, a Cornell ED-admitted student would never know whether they were accepted by the University of California.

Second, Early Action is a non-binding alternative to apply by Nov. 1 (or the college’s specific EA deadline) and be notified of admissions around Dec. 15 or later. For example, Northeastern University has an EA option to apply by Nov. 1 with notification by Feb. 1. The EA advantage is that a student signals that their application is ready for consideration and will be notified earlier of their admissions status.

For the class of 2025, Northeastern reported 75,223 applications. Compared to the prior year, their admissions statistics increased with a 17 percent rise of applications and with eight percent more students choosing to attend. Northeastern explains, “Choose Early Action if Northeastern is a top choice—and you feel that you can put your best foot forward at this earlier date, since the Admission Committee will not see your senior grades or late fall standardized testing.” If admitted EA, the student has until May 1 to decide to attend.

Third, Regular Decision is the popular non-binding date that is usually due around Jan. 1 or thereafter. University of Vermont offers a Regular deadline of Jan. 15. UVM also has a Priority Application Completion deadline of Jan. 31 if a student changes their testing plan to submit new scores or decides to apply test-optional (without scores). With Regular applications, the student is notified around early March whether they are admitted. They must confirm enrollment by May 1.

UVM had a record 25,500 applications for the class of 2025 of around 2,600 students. UVM credits this increase by how the school handled the pandemic, test-optional admissions and solid recruitment. The freshman class is the largest, best prepared and most geographically diverse class in UVM history, reported WCAX.

With various deadline options and growth in applications, it is important for students to plan for the college road ahead. Optimizing admissions involves creating a strategy that should not be left to chance. Smart college planning can offer its own rewards, like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.