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Articles / Applying to College / Should You Roll with Rolling Admission?

Oct. 4, 2016

Should You Roll with Rolling Admission?

Many high school seniors right now are targeting November 1. That's the Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) date for a number of top (a.k.a. "elite") and some other American colleges and universities. This is putting considerable pressure on ED/EA seniors because we're over a month into the new school year, classes, and extracurricular activities. Those endeavors have blossomed and are taking large chunks of time from seniors' days and nights.

Colleges and universities that offer ED and EA usually also expand their Common Application requirements to include supplemental writing requirements, which many times include one "major" (500 or so words) essay and one or more "short-response" statements that up the ante on time needed to apply. I guess that this is perhaps the appropriate time for me to say, "I told you so!"

Every summer, just after high school ends for juniors who have just become newly minted "rising" seniors, I preach the gospel of developing application essays over the summer plus working on additional Common Application requirements. If you are now a senior looking to apply ED or EA November 1, you have just 3.5 weeks to get your act together. Hopefully, you are already at least 80-90% finished with all that.

Okay. Enough punishment for the procrastinators. On to rolling admission.

Rolling admission is the opposite of deadline-dependent admission. Sort of. That conditional comment pertains to some schools' "preferred" application date, which functions as a kind of deadline for those who have targeted a rolling-admission school as a top choice (or near the top). Many preferred-application-date (PAD) schools use November as their preferential application submission month. Beyond that, some PAD schools may have even earlier dates for those applying to special "scholars" programs that have higher admission standards and more substantial perks.

I deal mainly with seniors who are applying to Ivy League and Top-20 schools. When they create their traditional Reach-Ballpark/Match-Safety schools lists, schools with rolling admission usually fall into the Safety category. These are mainly state schools with acceptance rates much higher than the Reach and Ballpark/Match schools on their lists. This is in no way an affront to Safety schools. It's merely a numbers game that includes the proviso "If all else fails and I'm not accepted to any of my Reach or Ballpark/Match schools, I'll be happy and thankful to attend a Safety."

The lesson here is: Choose your Safety schools carefully. You may need one.

Now, let's take a look at the pros and cons of rolling-admission schools.

Campus Grotto and The Collegiate Blog have created thoughtful lists of the good and less-than-good news about applying via rolling admissions. For your enlightenment, I thought I would give you a summary of those points from both sources.

First, defining (beyond what I have already done) rolling admission:

- Many colleges and universities employ rolling admissions policies. Rolling admissions give students a long period of time in which they can apply. These colleges and universities make admissions decisions typically on a bi-weekly basis during the open application window. Colleges may choose to accept or reject an applicant right away, or they may hold off for several admissions cycles in order to compare him or her to other applicants. Colleges and universities will continue to accept applications until space has filled. Students who have been admitted typically still have until May 1st to make a decision, though policies vary by school.

Oftentimes, colleges with rolling admissions will have some sort of priority deadline for financial aid, scholarships, and special programs. These deadlines are usually around the same time as typical regular decision deadlines for other colleges ...

- For the student who waits until the last moment or who is unsure of where they would like to attend college, then a rolling admission program may be ideal. A lot of schools offer this as a way to entice more students to apply to their school without the stress of a deadline ... Rolling admission is offered by some colleges as a way to open up the admission period for incoming students. Instead of a standard deadline for applications, they will accept applications over a longer time frame, usually 4-6 months, until the incoming class is filled. You will receive notice of a decision shortly after your application, no matter when you submit it. There are advantages and disadvantages of using rolling admission that should be considered ahead of time.

Here is a list of some schools that offer rolling admission. These are by no means all of the schools that have this admission policy (for that, see below), so be sure to check the application requirements pages of any school to which you're considering applying to be sure of deadlines.


- Arizona State University

- Ball State University

- Beloit College

- Birmingham-Southern College

- California College of the Arts

- Eckerd College

- Hope College

- Indiana University — Bloomington

- Indiana University — Purdue University

- Liberty University

- Loyola University Chicago

- Michigan State University

- Pennsylvania State University — University Park

- Philadelphia University

- Rochester Institute of Technology

- State University of New York — Binghamton

- t. John's University

- University of Maine — Farmington

- University of Maryland — College Park

- University of Minnesota — Twin Cities

- University of Pittsburgh

- University of the Arts

- University of the Sciences

- West Chester University of Pennsylvania

For a complete list of rolling admission colleges, see this helpful list.

Now, what about those pros and cons?

First, let's consider the pros:

- Since there is no standard deadline, you have a longer period of time to complete your application and submit it to your intended school. This is perfect for the student who is looking for backup schools in case they are not admitted to their first choice. It leaves them plenty of time to apply to another school before the end of their senior year of high school.

- Potentially early notification It is a great feeling to know as early as October or November that you've been admitted to college. Even if it isn't your first choice school, having that safety net can be a major stress reducer.

- Less pressure. Since there is no standard deadline, students don't feel pressured to hurry and write that winning admission essay and it gives them extra time to try and boost their GPA before submitting transcripts to their intended college.

- Ability to demonstrate interest by applying early If you apply during the first round of admissions, colleges will know that you are interested. As a result, colleges interested in protecting their yield will be more likely to admit you and other students who have applied early.

- Better access to scholarships by applying early For most rolling admissions programs, schools dole out financial aid and scholarships on a rolling basis as well. This means that the earlier you apply, the sweeter the pot.

- Increased housing options for early applicants Applicants who are admitted early and then choose to matriculate early may, at some schools, have the first selection of housing. This can be a good motivator to get those applications in.

- Later absolute deadlines Sometimes the college search isn't so neat and organized. You might come upon a school you love after regular decision deadlines. If the school has rolling admissions, you can still apply, sometimes even up until the start of classes. Again, this can be a great stress reducer for students who might have struck out during the college process but want to enroll somewhere in the fall. That said, admissions and financial aid preference nearly always goes to earlier applicants ...

Now the cons:

- Since rolling admission has such a wide open admission period, students who wait until the very end may be denied as the school may have filled their limit of incoming spots.

- Most colleges have an allotted amount of money for grants and scholarships for incoming students, however these funds are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis to eligible students. The student who waits until the last minute may miss out on money that would otherwise help pay for tuition.

- On-campus housing assignments are awarded early, so if you wait until the last minute to apply to a school, you may not be eligible for housing or you may be put on a dorm waiting list. This could pose a problem for the student who applies to a out-of-state school and who would otherwise need on-campus living arrangements.

- The waiting game. Since schools with rolling admissions can often shelve applications for weeks at a time before making admissions decisions, the lingering unknown can be difficult to deal with. Sometimes classmates have been accepted from the college but you still haven't heard anything. This can lead to anxiety and frustration at times.

- No first semester grades. Some late bloomers need their first semester transcripts to boost their GPA. However, by waiting until the end of the semester to apply, students are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Students who want to show colleges their first semester grades are in a difficult position for rolling admissions schools and must make a gamble.


It appears that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of using rolling admission as a strategy at some schools. Of course, as they say, your mileage may vary, depending on your circumstances, needs, and overall plan.

Regardless of what you may think of using rolling admission, one thing is clear for seniors at this point: You should be well underway with your college applications.

Granted, there can be any number of roadblocks to avoid, hurdles to leap, and hoops to jump through during the college admissions process. Try to see things philosophically.

My many years of experience in guiding seniors through their applications have shown me that an early start, research, patience, and persistence can go a long way in contributing to a rewarding outcome.

So ... roll with it!


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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