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What Is a Priority Deadline for College? Is It Important?


Are you applying to a school that uses priority deadlines and are unsure what that means? What is a priority deadline, and how does it differ from a regular deadline? Do you need to apply by a priority deadline? What happens if you don't? Read this article to learn the answer to each of these questions and understand how to make priority deadlines work for you.


What Is a Priority Deadline?

What's the priority application deadline meaning? A priority deadline for college admissions is basically what it sounds like: it's not a hard deadline (you can still submit after it), but applications that are submitted before the deadline will receive priority by the admissions team. 

Say a college has a priority deadline of November 1. If you submit your application after November 1, you still have a chance of getting accepted, but not until the school has reviewed all the applications submitted before November 1. If they fill all their open spots with just applications received by the priority deadline, none of the applications received after the deadline will be considered, no matter how strong they are.

Schools with rolling admissions are the most likely to have priority deadlines. Rolling admissions is where students have a much wider window to apply (sometimes as late as the summer) and applications are reviewed as they are received. While rolling admissions give students more time to apply, priority deadlines make it easier for those schools to begin forming their freshman classes by encouraging more early applications. For most schools, if you apply by the priority deadline, you'll receive your application decision much earlier, often by a specified date.

There may also be priority deadlines for things besides general admission, including:

  • Admission to a specific college program (honors college, certain majors, etc.)
  • On-campus housing
  • Financial aid


How Is a Priority Deadline Different Than Other Deadlines?

First, a few definitions.

Regular Deadline: Non-binding. This is the final date you must submit your college application if you want a chance of being accepted. Often in January or February.

Early Decision: Binding. You apply early (often by November 1) and, if you are accepted (often by mid-December), you must attend that school. Applying early decision may give you a slightly better chance of being accepted.

Early Action: Non-binding. You apply early (often by November 1) and receive an earlier admissions decision (often mid-December). If you're accepted, you have until the regular decision date (May 1) to decide if you want to attend the school or not.

From the definitions, you might notice that priority deadlines are most similar to early action deadlines. For both, you don't need to do anything more than apply by the deadline. Then, if you're accepted, you can decide whether or not you want to attend the school.

By applying by the deadline, you'll get an earlier decision as well. In fact, many schools use early action/priority deadlines interchangeably, although a few, such as Penn State, have different deadlines for each. In general, schools with rolling admissions are more likely to use the term "priority deadline" while other schools use "early action." Other than this, there isn't much difference between the two.

And what about early decision? Both priority deadlines and early decision require you to apply by an earlier date, and both can increase your chance of being accepted by the school. However, the key difference is that early decision is binding. If you apply early decision to a school and they accept you, you must attend. This is not true for priority deadlines; you can still attend any school you want if you're accepted.

While you can apply after a priority deadline and still have a chance of getting into a school, if you apply after the regular deadline your application won't be looked at. The only exception is if you have significant extenuating circumstances, and even then it's not guaranteed. So while you want to apply by a priority deadline, you absolutely need to apply by the regular/final deadline of a school to have a shot at getting in.




What Are Some Schools With Priority Deadlines?

To give you a sense of when priority deadlines are and how they compare to regular application deadlines, here's a sample of schools with priority deadlines. Most schools with priority deadlines tend to be larger public schools, although this certainly isn't always the case. If a school has a "rolling" regular deadline, that means it will continue to accept applications until it fills all the spots for the incoming freshman class.


School Name Priority Deadline Regular Deadline
Arizona State University November 1 January 15
Brigham Young University November 1 December 15
Drexel University November 1 January 15
Eastern Washington University February 1 Rolling; two weeks prior to start of term
Florida State University November 1 March 1
Loyola University Chicago December 1 Rolling
Purdue University November 1 January 15
Texas Tech University December 1 May 1
University of Arkansas November 1 August 1
University of Texas-Austin November 1 December 1



What Happens If You Apply by a Priority Deadline? What Happens If You Apply After It?

If you are at all able to apply by a school's priority deadline, we highly recommend it. If you apply by the priority deadline, you're guaranteeing your application will be reviewed, and you're giving yourself the best shot at both getting into the school and getting financial aid.

There's really no downside to applying by a priority deadline, unless it causes you to neglect other college deadlines, schoolwork, etc. in order to meet the deadline.

If you apply after the priority deadline, you can still be accepted, but you run the risk of the school already having filled its slots for the next school year. When this happens, your application won't be reviewed at all, even if it's very strong. It's uncommon for this to happen, but it's more common for schools with priority deadlines for special programs, student housing, or financial aid to run out of spots/money for those. So you may still get accepted into the school, but you may not get as much financial aid, be able to live on campus, or be admitted into special programs the school has. So really try to make priority deadlines, even if they don't seem that important.




Summary: Priority Admission Definition

What is a priority deadline? A school's priority deadline is the deadline you must apply by in order to guarantee a chance of your application being reviewed. It can also be used to give priority to things like student housing, program spots, and financial aid.

If you apply after a priority deadline, you still have a chance of your application being reviewed, but only after all the applications of students who submitted by the deadline. Therefore, we recommend applying by priority deadlines whenever possible to maximize your chances of getting admitted and having access to resources you want from the school.


What's Next?

For more information on all the steps it takes to apply to college, from choosing your high school classes to hitting "submit,"check out this comprehensive guide. You'll learn not just what to prepare but also why each part is significant in the eyes of admissions officers.

When should you be applying to colleges? Our guide has a complete college application timeline to follow so you won't miss a single college deadline.

Going to a college that's far away from your hometown can be a tough transition, but it's a great experience for many students. Learn about the pros and cons of attending a college that's out of state.



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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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