1. Rolling Admission (RA)
Rolling Admission(RA) is a way of saying cycle admission. Essentially, the school is accepting pools of students on a month to month basis. Sometimes, they accept pools of students every 3 weeks; other schools may accept pools of students every 6 weeks; it varies from school to school. Most often, schools that offer RA will make their application available since the beginning of July or August until early April.
Applying in their first few pools (early in the academic school year) will mean a smaller pool of applicants, which means that you have a higher probability of standing out and therefore improving your chances of being accepted.
If you see that their last pool of applicants can apply until April 1st, for example, and you wait until then, chances are high that they will have accepted enough students already and they would not have to accept you or anyone else. Basically, if you wait until the last minute in RA, you will end up without a seat.
2. Early Decision
If you know your dream school, this is the option for you! By applying through Early Decision (ED) you are telling this college that you are sold. You are saying that it does not matter if you get accepted anywhere else, you are 100% committed to attending this school if you are accepted through ED. In general, your application will be due by mid-October or early November. (NOTE: Not all schools offer ED and you can only apply to 1 school using ED)
Congratulations you been accepted to your dream school (so sit back and relax because you are done applying to schools).
For example, if you get accepted into another school that gives you a better financial aid package than the school you applied ED to, I’m sorry, but you cannot attend the school that gave you the better financial aid package. You cannot just tell the school that accepted you through ED “Well, you see, I got more money from this other school so I will be going there instead.”
3. Early Action
Put simply, you are just applying early. By applying through EA you are applying before the students who apply through regular decision and sometimes with the set of students that applied ED (without any of the commitment associated that students who apply using ED must follow).
Applying through EA means you will be notified if you got accepted or denied before students who apply using regular decision. Another benefit is that you may sometimes be neither “accepted” nor “denied”, rather you will be “deferred” or “wait-listed”. If you are “deferred” it means that as an EA or ED applicant, your application has been converted to a regular application to be reviewed with students who applied through regular admission. This means you are freed from any obligation to attend their school if accepted, and you can go ahead and apply to other schools. “Wait-listed” means you will hear back from them after regular admission students have received their decisions.
Perhaps, your application was not polished enough because you hurried to get it done early (i.e grammatical mistakes in your essays) or they may need to see a higher test score, another quarter of grades, etc, before they decide to accept or reject you. Also, not all schools offer EA.
4. Regular Admission
In general, you are just applying before the regular deadline.