For some prospective college students – particularly non-traditional students – meeting the most common January application deadline is difficult. This could be due to work or family obligations or maybe you realize mid-year that you want to make a career change and going back to school will help you achieve that goal. Whatever the reason, there are ways to ensure you keep track of all the moving pieces and don’t miss an upcoming deadline. This guide offers tips on how to stay on top of things as well as a list of schools with late application deadlines. Read on to find a school and ensure you submit your application on time.
If you’re looking for a college that accepts applications later than the usual November through January dates, these schools might be right for you:
Compiling all the required documents for a college application is important, but none of that will matter if you don’t submit everything by the stated deadline. Missing a deadline is a sure way to miss out on the college of your dreams. “The sooner you learn to be organized with deadlines, the better,” says Erin Goodnow, co-founder and CEO of Going Ivy. But don’t forget there are deadlines beyond the college’s main application deadline – students don’t only need to meet due dates for submitting their applications; they also should observe target dates for completing standardized tests, starting their essays and asking for letters of recommendation. Here are 10 tips for keeping all the plates spinning:
“The deadlines don’t change dramatically from year to year, so look at them now,” advises Goodnow. “You know you’ll need to submit many of your applications by January 1 of your senior year, and earlier if you plan to apply Early Decision or Early Action. You know the Common App will be available to start on August 1. You know many of the essay prompts months before that. Get mentally prepared for the work that needs to be done and start doing it during your junior year.”
“The one who is most organized usually wins in this process,” says Neha Gupta, founder of College Shortcuts. Gupta recommends that students who are disorganized start by creating a checklist but also seek outside help. “I recommend creating an Excel document, getting a filing box and taking good notes. It’s just like an added course on a typical high school course load.” However, she points out that, unlike a typical high school class, there is no teacher reminding you of upcoming deadlines or pushing you to stay on track. “That’s why most students procrastinate,” she says.
“When I work with students, they work on their essays junior year — not a lot changes after that, so it is better to start early,” Gupta says. “The essay topics rarely change, so you can do this in advance.” Starting early also means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to have other people proofread your essay and give you feedback.
Goodnow adds, “Your goal should be to have your main essay finished before August 1, and start as many of the applications as you can before school starts senior year. You’ll be a much happier senior if you do, with time to enjoy your family and friends without the stress of looming deadlines.”
Writing an essay is easy. Writing an impressive essay – that takes more effort and time. Goodnow says to brainstorm and talk to family and advisers about which essay prompt best suits you. “There are so many directions to take the essays, but it is critical to be unique, creative and mature and to demonstrate why you are someone a school wants to have as part of its community,” she says.
Don’t wait to collect application components, says Gupta. “Recommendation letters should be considered as early as ninth grade — many of the students that have great experiences with teachers and organizations should collect them while it’s fresh.”
On top of that, Goodnow points out that students can assist with the reference process. “A resume or sheet of activities and goals is helpful for references to add detail to their letters, and you can offer to share that sheet with them over summer or any time that is convenient.”
Goodnow thinks keeping things simple can be a big help. “Research what each school’s deadline is and put them in order. You may only apply to one school for Early Decision, so that should be your top-choice school and the first application you work on. Look at your chances of acceptance and the requirements in the applications to set a calendar of which ones you’ll finish in what order.”
“Students should know that the real deadline is actually when applications open, not when they close,” says Gupta. And there’s good reason for this, explains Goodnow. “By the end of the process, the admissions officers might be tired of reading essays and less likely to fight for a student on the bubble. By simply showing up early, you’ll position yourself to get first consideration when the admissions officers have fresh eyes and are excited to build their classes.”
“If you have a clear top choice, it is to your advantage to apply early decision or early action,” Goodnow says. “There are higher chances of acceptance, you’ll have the applications submitted and out of your hands; you’ll be able to relax. The rub is you usually have to submit the applications by November. Make a plan and start those applications first.”
Keep in mind, though, that ED locks accepted students into whatever their financial aid offer might be so this may not be the best tip for students who need to rely heavily on financial aid.
“Keeping track of deadlines can be as easy as setting a reminder on your phone and putting it in your calendar,” Gupta says. Apps such as CollegeHunch add admission dates to iPhone calendars.
Digital reminders are great but nothing beats a physical calendar. “I recommend students get a printout of what the year looks like in order to see how quickly deadlines approach,” Gupta says. “And they should know that applying on the deadline is considered late.”
Sometimes deadlines get missed. When it comes to college admissions, though, you’d better have a legitimate reason — like an act of God. “Hurricane Harvey was a big factor in this year’s college admissions deadlines, and it softened some hearts to offer extensions,” Goodnow says.
Here’s what you can do if you find yourself on the wrong side of a deadline.
Community colleges’ purpose is to make higher education possible for a larger swath of the population. One way of doing that is by giving students plenty of time to apply. Applications for fall enrollment at public two-year colleges are often due in July or August, well past when students have heard back from four-year colleges. Community college credits also are frequently designed to transfer to four-year universities, so students need not commit to attending for two years.
If starting in the fall is more important than getting into a first-choice school, then check out our College Application Search Tool for some options. Keep in mind, however, that at crunch time, you may be out of luck in terms of securing on-campus housing or financial aid.
Not every college enrolls freshmen in the spring. But many community and some four-year colleges have spring starts. Waiting just a single term to enroll can be beneficial if colleges have separate financial aid deadlines for that term — in other words, some colleges set money aside specifically for spring starts, rather than giving away all their funds in the fall.
The gap year — a year off from school between high school graduation and college enrollment — is becoming more and more common. And for students who choose to volunteer, intern, travel or work in their desired fields, these experiences can actually strengthen their applications going forward.
Some websites recommend calling the admissions office, but Gupta says, “Honestly, this is a big no-no. They could call the office, but it will not make a good first impression.”
Goodnow concurs. “And what’s your excuse? You’ve known about the deadline for a year, so there is fair warning that you might not get a lot of sympathy. However, if you were recently in a car accident or had emergency surgery or you had to move out of your home due to a flood, make sure the admissions department knows that. Communicate not only the details of your circumstance, but also how much you want to apply to the school.”
Keeping in mind that missing the deadline won’t endear you to an admissions committee, students with valid excuses should not wait until after the deadline has passed to contact the school. “If you’re close to the deadline and think you can’t make it, call the admissions office before the deadline passes and ask for an extension,” says Goodnow. “Your chances are better if you ask before that deadline.”
Every May, the NACAC publishes a list of schools who are still accepting applicants for the upcoming school year. Students who see schools they like on the list can apply without getting the side eye from admission committees.
“If you missed one school’s deadline,” says Goodnow, “look for another school that you can make your priority and put all effort in. Transferring to that first school is always an option, though you should try to be positive about the schools that are still accepting students and focus on your chances with them.”
Students who miss a deadline have a head start on the next admission cycle. “They should look into making sure their essays and resumes are strong, and they may want to add a college or two to their lists,” says Gupta. “But don't forget the next deadline — that's for sure!”