If you’re planning to start college next year but still don’t have a first choice or haven’t nailed down the final list of where you want to apply, rolling admission may work in your favor.

With a standard college admission approach, the application process follows a set timeline. Typically, all students must apply by a specific date, and applications are compared against each other — in one big batch. Rolling admission, on the other hand, allows you to submit your application anytime during a designated period, and the school evaluates them as they come in. 

Many schools with rolling admission have later deadlines — typically starting around September 1 and running through spring or whenever all available spots are filled. So if you’re a current high school senior continuing to explore your options, consider some of the advantages and potential pitfalls of rolling admission to determine whether it can work for you.

If you get a quick acceptance from a school you like, you may be able to skip applying to some colleges you’re on the fence about or only using as safety schools. 

The Upsides

Anxious about hearing from schools as you play the waiting game? Who wouldn’t be? Rolling admission can minimize the angst of waiting until April for admission news. You’ll find out sooner and avoid getting all of your admission news at the same time. The extra time can help you evaluate financial aid packages and make a more thoughtful decision about where to enroll.   

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Rolling admission also creates an expanded application window that can give you a chance to explore a wider range of schools, perhaps even including some hidden gems you may have initially overlooked. “Through this process, I have seen many instances when a student is surprised to find their perfect fit, whether due to a generous scholarship that makes it affordable, an attractive location that they had not previously considered or because they enjoy the diversity that a particular campus has to offer,” says Roxanna Cruz, associate vice president of recruitment and admissions at Barry University, which has a rolling admission policy.

Conversely, rolling admission can also help you whittle down your list early on. If you get a quick acceptance from a school you like, you may be able to skip applying to some colleges you’re on the fence about or only using as safety schools. 

The Possible Downsides

While you may feel like you have lots of time with rolling admission, that can be a false sense of security. Dragging your feet can do a disservice to your chances of admission. Acting quickly gives you a strategic advantage, because getting into the mix early when there are more slots available can increase your odds. 

The lack of pressure can also create issues for students who tend to put things off. In general, when it comes to college applications, procrastination doesn’t pay. It’s important to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) as soon as possible since some aid is given out on a first come, first served basis.

Making It Work for You

The best strategy for using rolling admission to your advantage? Submit applications for your obvious rolling admission target or safety schools ASAP. Then take advantage of the longer application window to broaden your horizons, widening the search to find a few creative or surprising options. This will ensure you have a diverse, interesting mix of schools and perhaps get some good news way earlier than you might expect. 


FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018.