The college admissions process is extremely stressful, so it was a massive relief when I opened my very first acceptance letter on a random Tuesday during the fall of senior year. The acceptance came from a rolling admissions school, meaning it accepts applications during a pretty long window, and responds to applications as they are processed. This process has a lot of advantages – and you can also use it to your advantage.
One major benefit of applying to a school with rolling admissions is simply the flexibility of when you can apply. Some schools start accepting applications as early as July, and many accept applications all the way until May. That means you have more freedom when it comes to taking (or retaking) the SAT and ACT, and can complete, perfect, and submit your applications when it works for you. This also means that, if you aren’t accepted into a regular decision school, you will likely have time to apply to rolling admissions schools after receiving that decision.
Of course, the other huge advantage of applying to a school with rolling admissions is that you’ll have your decision back sooner rather than later. The wait between applying and hearing back is excruciating, so why not minimize that wait time? Many schools will let you know if you’ve been accepted or rejected within four weeks, and some are even quicker than that.
However, just because a school’s application window is long doesn’t mean you should wait until the last minute. In fact, I typically urge high school students to apply to rolling admissions schools as early as they can, and the logic behind that is pretty simple: in the beginning of the window, there are plenty of open spaces that the school needs to fill. The longer you wait to apply, the fewer the spots (and thus, the lower your chances of acceptance). Send off your applications to rolling schools first, and you’ll be more likely to snag a spot. Applying on the early side will also help you plan the rest of your college application process accordingly. Plus, the sooner you accept an offer of admission, the sooner you can relax! (Well, maybe not relax… but at least stop stressing about college applications.)
Please, please remember, however, that it’s much more important to submit a quality application than it is to be one of the first people to apply. Don’t apply with a thrown together, less-than-stellar application just for the sake of applying quickly. That won’t do you any favors. An excellent application can certainly earn you a spot even if it’s submitted later.
The most successful college application strategy is one that has been carefully planned and executed. As you get closer and closer to your senior year, use your time to research your prospective schools and create a master timeline based on each school’s admissions process and deadlines. Applying to college comes with inevitable anxiety and chaos, but careful planning can help you minimize both.