High school seniors have a lot on their plates: coursework, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities. Not to mention researching colleges and filling out applications, all while keeping your eye on application deadlines.
There aren’t many worse feelings than the dread that seeps in when you realize you’ve sailed past a college application deadline without submitting yours. So what do you do if you miss an application deadline? First of all, don’t panic: you’re not the first student to miss a deadline, and you certainly won’t be the last.
In this guide, we’ll ease your worries with a list of important deadlines for college applications and what you should do if you miss one.
College application deadlines are highly school-specific and depend on what program you apply through. Below we’ll cover deadlines for early decision, early action, single-choice early action, regular decision, and rolling admissions.
Early decision deadlines are typically in November, and you’ll generally receive an admissions decision sometime in December.
Early decision programs allow students to submit applications earlier than regular decision admissions. These programs are binding, meaning you must enroll if you’re accepted and withdraw any other applications you submitted to other colleges. You can only apply to one school using early decision because of its binding nature.
Some programs may have two early decision deadlines, referred to as ED I and ED II. Deadlines for ED II are typically in January, with students receiving an admissions decision sometime in February. Like its ED I counterpart, you must enroll if you’re accepted and withdraw any other applications you sent to other colleges.
Schools that offer early decision II include Colgate University, Emory University, New York University, Pomona College, the University of Chicago, and Vanderbilt University.
Early action programs typically have similar deadlines as ED I, falling sometime in November, with admissions decisions being released in December.
Unlike early decision applications, early action is non-binding, meaning you can apply to other schools’ early action programs if you wish.
Similar to early decision deadlines, some schools may split them into early action I and early action II, where the latter’s deadline usually falls a few weeks after early decision I.
Also known as restrictive early action, deadlines for single-choice early action also tend to fall in November, and students often hear back sometime in December.
Single-choice early action incorporates elements of early decision and early action. It’s similar to early decision in that you’re only permitted to apply to one school through an early admission program. Still, it is non-binding, and you are under no obligation to attend, similar to early action.
Regular decision deadlines are more varied by school, but they typically fall around January into February. Students will generally receive an admissions decision sometime in March and have until the end of April to accept an offer.
Regular decision applications have no limits: you can apply to whichever schools you want and are not obligated to enroll at any particular college.
Rolling admissions deadlines can vary by school, but most schools with rolling admissions will accept applications for about six months or until the class is full.
These deadlines are much less hard and fast. Schools with rolling admissions have a much broader window for students to send in their applications.
Students who apply to schools with rolling admissions generally hear back about four to six weeks after their application is received. Despite the seeming lack of rigid deadlines, some schools with rolling admissions have priority deadlines. These deadlines mean they prefer students to submit all materials before a particular date, and these students are also given priority in the selection process.
To summarize, here are the application deadlines for each program:
Missing a college deadline can feel devastating at the moment. Stay calm and don’t panic; you’re not the first person to miss a college application deadline, and you’re not the last.
As soon as you realize you’ve missed a deadline, it’s time to spring into action and plan your next steps: you have options.
Your first step should always be to contact college admissions offices if you miss your application deadline. Calmly explain your situation, and see what policies they have in place and if they would still accept your application past the deadline.
When you reach out to a college admissions office, be prepared to explain why you missed the deadline. Just saying that you forgot about it is not your best option and probably won’t inspire the response you’re hoping for.
Colleges have application deadlines for a reason, but if you encountered an extenuating circumstance that prevented you from sending in your application on time, you should make that known to an admissions office through a letter or phone call. You may need to mail in your application or hand-deliver it to the admissions office yourself past the deadline, so plan for that as well.
If the college has policies that can bend to late applications, be sure to follow up later to know whether your application will still be considered and evaluated by the admissions committee.
There’s no surefire way to know if your application will be accepted until you call and inquire: remember to have a well-prepared reason for why you missed the deadline. If the admissions committee decides to evaluate your application, be prepared to potentially miss out on first-come-first-serve housing or financial aid.
Applying through regular decision when you were primed and ready to submit before an early decision or action deadline can be disappointing. Still, it might be one of your only options. Thankfully, you don’t have to jump through any other hoops and tick any other boxes to apply through regular decision.
Take comfort in the fact that you have more time to spend polishing your application to perfection. While some schools have higher acceptance rates for early decision or early action, those applicants typically have incredibly robust applications. Spend the next few weeks running through your application and ensuring you’ve gathered all the materials you need.
If you miss regular decision deadlines at the colleges you wanted to apply to without an excellent reason, there may not be much you can do to submit your application past the due dates.
Thankfully, some schools have extended their application deadlines past the average window for regular decision applications. If you’re willing to switch trajectories and consider applying to other schools with deadlines that haven’t passed yet, this could be the right option for you.
The College Board released a list of colleges with later regular decision application dates, ranging from January 15 to August 31. While many of them may not have been on your original college list, you can look into some of these schools and see if they would be the right fit for you.
Schools with rolling deadlines accept applications well past general regular decision deadlines. If you’ve missed a regular decision deadline in January, you may have until May or even later to apply to a school with rolling admissions.
One thing to note about rolling admissions is you always have a better chance of acceptance if you apply earlier in the application window. Some schools have priority deadlines, meaning they give priority to applicants who submit all of their application materials by a specific date.
However, you still have a shot of acceptance even if you’ve missed the priority deadline. Schools with rolling admissions accept students on a rolling basis until the class is full.
If you decide this is the course of action you want to take, you should immediately research colleges and see which ones suit your needs best. There are many excellent colleges to choose from, including Purdue University, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, Rutgers University, and many more.
If you’ve decided to apply and got accepted into a college with an extended regular decision deadline or one with rolling admissions, understand that this doesn't have to be a goodbye forever to your original first-choice schools. After your first year at the institution, you can apply to transfer to any school you wish if it aligns with your passions and educational and career goals.
Make sure your transfer application is compelling: maintain high college grades, get involved on or off-campus, and show admissions committees why transferring is the best move for you. If your goal is to transfer to one of the nation’s top colleges, you’ll need to ensure your application narratives are compelling and demonstrate why you’re an excellent candidate.
If you want to give yourself a competitive edge in the transfer admissions process, consider seeking an admissions consultant’s help. Although you’ve been through the college application process once before, an admissions consultant can help you create a new application that shows all the new things you’ve done in your first year of college and increase your chances of admission at any school you choose.
Waiting to apply next term or year may sound like a cop-out if you were particularly eager to attend college right away. But that’s not the case. When you choose this route, you’ll have a little time to decompress after high school and pursue meaningful and formative experiences. A little extra time off means you can dedicate even more time to honing the perfect college application and boosting your chances of getting in the next term or year.
If the school you were interested in applying to doesn’t enroll new students on a per term basis, consider taking a gap year. If you decide this is the right option for you, don’t feel too discouraged about waiting a year to apply again. You can fill your gap year with meaningful experiences and activities to strengthen your application later.
A gap year is an excellent time to try new things, figure out what you like to and want to do, and have a little fun to boot. You can:
A gap year is an excellent way to build your skills and profile before applying to colleges again. If you decide that a gap year is right for you, gather all the materials or contacts you’ll need before you graduate high school and go off on whatever journey you have planned.
For example, you either want to secure your letters of recommendation from your teachers or get their contact information to collect them at a later date, and talk to your guidance counselor and inform them you want to take a gap year. A bonus of taking a gap year is more time to take or retake the SAT or ACT – make the most out of your time!
Missing a college deadline is tough, but rest assured knowing you have some great options moving forward. If you still have questions, here are some common FAQs answered.
Colleges may accept late applications from students with truly extenuating circumstances: you went through a significant crisis, natural disaster, or any other situation far beyond simply forgetting a deadline. However, this all depends on each college and its admissions policies.
If the only reason you didn’t submit your application on time was that you forgot, you can certainly still reach out to the college and ask if there’s anything you can do. Still, be prepared to hear a “no” and work toward your next steps. Numerous options are laid out above, so don’t feel too disappointed!
Yes, even if you miss the priority deadline, there is still a chance you can get accepted at a school with rolling admissions. While you have a better chance of admission if you submit your application materials before the deadline, as long as there are still seats open in the class, you have a chance of acceptance.
The best way to avoid missing a deadline is to use planning tools and have excellent time management. Planning tools can be whatever works best for you: online project management tools, physical planners, phone memos, or even time blocking apps.
College application deadlines can be a highly stressful time, so starting them early and checking in frequently with your planning tools can help you avoid the dread of missing a deadline. Remember, some colleges have different deadlines so double-check before you note them in whatever planning tool you use.
The answer depends on the school you apply to and what is still available for you past the application date. The reality with a late application is that you may miss out on some first-come-first-serve benefits, such as choosing your housing, financial aid, and more. Double-check with the school before you make any decisions.
Many schools offer early decision or early action programs for students looking to submit applications earlier. Most of these schools release data on early applications, and often the acceptance rate is higher among early applicants compared to the regular decision pool.
However, early applicants tend to have powerful applications and display a high interest in attending the school they apply to. Don’t count yourself out quite yet if you apply through regular decision: just ensure your application is perfectly polished and stands out from the crowd.
Generally speaking, transfer admissions are more competitive than first-year admissions. According to a report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, “The average rate of admission for a transfer applicant is 62 percent. Comparatively, first-time freshman applicants are admitted at a rate of 66 percent."
If you’re looking to apply to the nation’s most competitive schools, there may also be fewer openings because of high undergraduate retention rates. If you decide transferring is the right pathway for you, ensure you craft an entirely new application showcasing your academic aptitude, campus involvement, growth, and more.
Missing a college application deadline is a dreadful experience, but there are still options if it happens to you. Ensure you contact the college’s admissions office first, look for colleges with extended deadlines, apply to rolling admissions schools, or decide to take a gap year. While none of these may be what you want to do, they can help you work through an unsavory situation with your best interest in mind.
If you want to avoid the possibility of missing application deadlines altogether, remember to make good use of your planning tools, start your applications early, and manage your time efficiently. A missed college application deadline certainly isn’t the end of the line: make good use of the options you have, and you’re su