Tom Petty said it best: “The waiting is the hardest part.”
High school students put so much effort into completing their college applications, and then it can feel like *crickets* as they await the next crucial step in the process: hearing back from the colleges they eagerly applied to.
Students and their families often ask, “How long do college admissions decisions take?” The answer to this question varies, depending on when a student submits their applications (i.e., Regular Decision vs. Early Action or Early Decision) and whether or not they’ve been waitlisted.
Generally speaking, college admissions decisions can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Keep reading to learn more and help your student set realistic expectations.
Standard College Admissions Timeline
Before getting too far into how long college admissions decisions take, it’s helpful to understand the full scope of the college admissions process, which itself can feel pretty long. Here’s a standard college admissions timeline:
Early Spring of Junior Year to Early Fall of Senior Year
- Research colleges and make a college list
- Decide on application time frames (standard vs. early decision)
- Prep and take standardized tests
- Request and confirm recommendations
- Brainstorm, draft, and refine personal essay
Summer to Fall of Senior Year
- Develop supplemental essays
- Fill out applications, including information on extracurriculars
- Report academic information
Fall to Winter of Senior Year
- Proofread and submit college applications
- Apply for financial aid
It’s important to note that some of these pieces must be completed in sequential order, while others overlap. Students can expect to work on multiple elements simultaneously, especially spring of junior year through the fall of senior year.
Applying Regular Decision, Early Action, or Early Decision
While most students follow the same general sequence of events during the college admissions process, adjustments to the timing may be necessary depending on whether a student is planning to apply Regular Decision vs. Early Action or Early Decision. Here is where we can really start to answer the question, “How long do college admissions decisions take?”
First, a quick point of clarification: Early Decision applications are binding, meaning that a student who is accepted must attend the college. Early Action applications get students their decisions equally fast but are not binding.
Regular Decision, Early Action, and Early Decision Deadlines
- Regular Decision applications are typically due at the beginning of January, and most students hear back around March or April.
- Early Action and Early Decision applications are typically due at the beginning of November, and most students hear back in December. Some schools offer an Early Decision II option, allowing students to turn in their applications at the beginning of January to hear back in February.
Since Early Action and Early Decision deadlines are about two months earlier than Regular Decision deadlines, students should plan to shift their college admissions timelines accordingly.
A Note on Applying Early
The primary purpose of applying early is to receive a decision faster than normal and communicate their enthusiasm for a college. Some students find immense value in firming up their college plans as soon as possible. However, we recommend students avoid applying early unless they are certain they want to attend the school (yes—even if they are applying Early Action and not Early Decision).
Most students who apply early are extremely well-prepared; they’ve already reached their goal score on the SAT or ACT and spent the summer working on their college applications. And while many students understandably don’t want to wait longer than necessary to solidify their plans, we advise against rushing into applying early unless a student is truly confident in their decision.
What to Do If a Student Gets Waitlisted
Patiently awaiting colleges’ decisions is hard enough as it is, and in some cases, when students finally hear back, they don’t receive a clear answer. Yes, we’re talking about being placed on the dreaded waitlist.
Students are waitlisted for a range of reasons—some inspiring more hope and optimism than others. If a student still wants to attend a school that waitlisted them, they should plan to:
- Follow any explicit directions the school has provided
- Keep working hard in their classes
- Be judicious in their correspondence, avoiding excessive communication and attempts at cleverness
- Communicate sincere interest in the school
How long does it take to get off the waitlist?
As for when waitlisted students can expect to receive an official acceptance or rejection, the timing can vary. Generally, schools begin making offers to waitlisted students after National Decision Day on May 1 because, by then, they know for certain how much space they have available.
That said, colleges have been known to make offers before May or as late as July or August. When in doubt, check the college’s website for more information on their waitlist timeline.
College Admissions Support
College admissions can be exceedingly tricky to navigate. There are so many moving pieces and so many questions about what a student should or shouldn’t do.
At Signet, we recognize that each student is on a unique journey. Our admissions consultants are trained to guide students and their families through the college admissions process from beginning to end, providing invaluable insights gleaned from serving on admissions committees at elite universities.
If you’d like to learn more about our college admissions consulting services, reach out for a free consultation!