SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What Is Rolling Admission? When Do You Apply?


Who needs deadlines? Colleges with rolling admissions invite you to submit your application within a general time frame, usually ranging from the fall to the spring.

While these schools don't have a set deadline, your timeline for applying still matters. This guide will explore the rolling admission policy and how it affects your college planning. First, what is this application option all about?


What Is Rolling Admissions?

Colleges with rolling admission review applications as they arrive on a rolling basis. Instead of collecting everyone's applications, reviewing them all, and sending out notifications en masse, admissions officers at rolling admission schools consider applications as they arrive.

Does this sound advantageous to you? It is! It means that the sooner you apply, the sooner you'll hear back. Many schools let you know whether or not you got in just four to eight weeks after you apply. A few let you know only two weeks after.

Schools with rolling admissions typically open up the submission period in the fall, often on September 1. This period continues through the spring, or sometimes later if spots are still available. If, worst case scenario, you miss deadlines or don't get accepted anywhere you want to go, you may still be able to apply to a school with rolling admissions in the spring of senior year.

However, just because schools with rolling admissions don't have a set deadline doesn't mean you should put off your application. You should still apply as early as you would to meet an early or regular decision deadline.

Some colleges with rolling admission also set a "priority deadline," stating that students who apply by that date will have better chances of getting in. For the more competitive colleges, like Rutgers, this priority deadline should essentially be considered as a fixed deadline.

I'll go more into detail about what your timeline should look like to apply under rolling admissions below, but first—what are some popular colleges with this application policy?




Popular Colleges with Rolling Admissions

Some well-known schools with rolling admissions are

  • Michigan State
  • Penn State
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Maine
  • University of New Haven
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Tulsa

Some of these schools have priority deadlines. The Penn State deadline, for instance, is December 1. While it will still accept applications after this date, you should put in every effort to submit by then if you're serious about getting accepted. The more selective or competitive the school, the earlier you should strive to submit your application.

Applying under rolling admission doesn't restrict you from applying anywhere else. Regardless of when you get your admissions decision, you still have until the national response date of May 1 to decide where to enroll. This means you can wait for all your notifications, as well as compare financial aid offers, before committing to a college.

While rolling admissions can take some of the pressure off you and give you more flexibility in terms of when you apply, how does it benefit colleges? Why do some colleges opt for rolling admission over a regular decision deadline?




Why Do Colleges Offer Rolling Admission?

Just as rolling admission can take the pressure off of you as an applicant, it also eases the burden on admissions officers. Rather than reviewing thousands of applications at once, they can space out the process and evaluate candidates as they arrive. This policy can be especially helpful for schools with a smaller staff of admissions officers to read applications.

According to Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde, authors of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, some schools with rolling admissions use less of a holistic process when considering candidates. Rather than trying to assess the entire candidate as a student and person, some of these colleges may rely more on objective criteria, like grades and test scores.

While other selective schools may be comparing applicants to one another, rolling admission schools aren't necessarily doing that. They may accept one candidate months before others have even applied. This is not to say that there aren't competitive rolling admission schools. As mentioned above, most of these especially selective colleges set a priority deadline or invite students to apply as early in the fall as possible.

Given this preference for early applications, when should you apply to your rolling admissions schools? And how can you plan out your application?




When Should You Apply to a Rolling Admission School?

Since applications are reviewed as they roll in, you should get your application in early. If your school has a priority deadline, then you definitely want to meet that. If not, it's a good idea to set a deadline for yourself in the fall or winter. You could apply in November, December, or, at the latest, January.

Not only may applying earlier give you a competitive edge, but it also helps you keep track of your application requirements. Many pieces of your application take months, if not years, to prepare. By setting a deadline for yourself, you can plan out when to take the SAT or ACT, when to ask for recommendation letters, and when to start writing your college essay.

Read on for some guidelines to follow when putting together your college application.


Plan Your SAT or ACT

Give yourself at least two opportunities to take the SAT or ACT, if possible. Many students take the tests three or more times to achieve their target scores. Not only does the experience of taking the test help you know what to expect for next time, but you can prep effectively in between administrations by understanding your mistakes.

If your school has a November priority deadline, then you'd only have one senior year test date, in September or October. Ideally, you'd have all your testing done by the end of junior year. You could take it for the first time in the spring of 10th grade, twice in junior year, and leave the senior year date as a back up just in case you need to test again.

If you're applying a month or two later, like in January, then you might be able to fit in another testing date senior year in November or December. With this timeline, you could take the SAT or ACT in the fall of 11th grade and again in the spring.

Achieving your target SAT or ACT scores is a process that can takes months of planning and studying, Make sure to plan ahead, even if you're applying to a college with no set deadline. Similarly, setting a deadline for yourself will help you collect letters of recommendation.




Ask for Recommendation Letters Early

Just as students are busy applying in the first half of senior year, teachers and counselors are busy writing hundreds or thousands of recommendation letters. You should speak to your counselor about your plans and request letters from teachers at least a month before your deadlines. Many students also ask junior year teachers at the end of 11th grade.

Besides giving your teachers time to craft a thoughtful letter, asking early ensures that they're more likely to say yes. Many teachers set a cap on how many rec letter requests they'll accept, so you could be out of luck if you wait too long.

Meeting with your teachers, sharing your thoughts and goals, and making your recommendation requests are more reasons to set a specific application deadline for yourself. Finally, you should be working on your personal essay, and any other supplemental essays, a few months before you apply.


Work On Your Personal Essay Months in Advance

While your teachers and counselor spend time on their recommendation letters, you'll also need to spend time brainstorming, drafting, and revising your personal essay. It's a good idea to start working on it over the summer before senior year.

You can read the essay prompts at the beginning of the summer and let ideas swirl in your head for a few weeks. The essay requires you to share a profound, meaningful experience that communicates something important about your identity. You're not going to think of the perfect topic right away, nor will you be able to scribble it off in a day.

Part of your process should be mulling over ideas and allowing your creativity to percolate while you narrow down your thoughts. Some students even change their topics after writing one or more drafts. As anyone who's stared down a blank page knows, writing takes time, patience, and a lot of editing before you come around to exactly what you want to say.

Give yourself a few months to think about and write your essay. Read samples of personal essays to learn what admissions officers look for. Ask for feedback from trusted peers and teachers, and take the time to edit your essay into its best form.

Your SAT or ACT, recommendation letters, and personal essay are three aspects of your application that require special planning. You should also give yourself at least a month or two to fill out your application, request your transcript, and fulfill any other application requirements. If you start checking these requirements off your list early, then you'll be prepared to submit a strong application in the beginning of the rolling admissions time frame.


To Sum Up...

Don't be fooled by a lack of deadline with rolling admission schools. They may still have a priority deadline, and you should set one for yourself either way. That way you can stay on track gathering all your application materials. Remember, the sooner you apply to a school with rolling admissions, the sooner you'll hear back about whether or not you got accepted!


What's Next?

Looking for other rolling admissions schools? Find out where else you can apply with our complete list of schools with rolling admissions deadlines.

Now that you know all about rolling admissions, what about early admissions? Learn about schools with early action and their deadlines here. This guide goes over early decision, a binding application option, plus the full list of early decision deadlines here.

Feeling confused about all the different options—regular decision, early admissions, and rolling admissions? This article goes in depth about the various ways to apply to college and how to keep track of all your deadlines.



Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!

author image
Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!