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Published: Nov 23, 2016 5 min read
Penn State University campus.
Penn State is among the colleges with a rolling admissions program.
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Each fall, students rush to submit college applications for early decision and early action deadlines by the end of November. This can be a stressful time for students, parents, teachers, and school counselors—not to mention college admissions offices!

However, there is another option. Though little publicized, rolling admissions give students the flexibility to apply to college within a wider window of time. Although the most highly selective colleges don’t offer rolling admissions, just under a third of nationally ranked universities do. You can find out on their websites.

Here are five benefits of applying to colleges using rolling admissions:

Time to conduct a meaningful college search. A purposeful college search can take time. Even students who have not spent their junior year researching and visiting colleges can undergo an intensive search during their senior year. Rolling admissions can take the pressure off of rushing to make decisions, and allow students more time to apply to colleges that fit their needs.

Time to take one more test. If students are aiming for a certain test score or have delayed taking standardized tests until their senior year, delaying applications to December or even January allows students to squeeze in just one more test session.

Breathing room for teachers and counselors. Early fall is a busy time for counselors and teachers who are writing letters of recommendation. Applying to a rolling admissions institution sometime after November 1 allows more time for teachers and counselors to craft a meaningful letter of recommendation.

Faster turnaround time for admissions decisions. One of the advantages to rolling admissions is that applications are typically evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that students can receive a decision as early as two to four weeks after submitting their application. Some rolling admissions institutions even have an acceptance policy where students with a minimum GPA and standardized test score are automatically accepted to the college. Note, however, that this response time increases during the busy application season.

A fallback option. Colleges that offer rolling admissions can be less selective than those that offer strict deadlines like early action. Students may use a rolling admissions institution as a second choice, or as option in addition to early action or regular decision institutions where admission may be a stretch. Rolling admissions institutions should not be thought of as a last resort, though, as many excellent institutions offer this option.

For students who choose the rolling admissions route, here's some advice for filling out your application:

  • Watch for priority deadlines. Many institutions with rolling admissions deadlines will promote a “priority deadline.” This can mean different things for different colleges, but typically, by meeting a priority deadline, students will receive their response by a certain date or they may have a higher chance of admission.
  • Provide as much information as possible. The evaluation process on rolling admissions applications may happen immediately after the application is submitted, so students should make sure they are submitting a complete application, including anything that the college is asking for, including transcripts, test scores, a current course schedule, letters of recommendation, and other materials.
  • Submit the FAFSA early. This year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) became available for submission as early as October 1, rather than January 1. The new timing allows families to receive financial aid letters earlier in the college planning process. Students should be ready to submit the FAFSA soon after (or before) receiving a decision letter from their college so they can make an informed financial decision as well as address any issues or questions that may arise related to financial aid.

Kim Oppelt is education and outreach manager for Hobsons, the company behind Naviance and other college-related services. She has also written for us on “5 Smart Reasons to Consider a Gap Year Before College.”