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What Does Rolling Admissions Mean and How Does It Work?

Picture of Vanessa Daves-Poarch
By Vanessa Daves-Poarch on April, 5 2021 | 5 minute read

Knowing when to submit your college applications can be a helpful strategy for gaining admission to your top-choice schools. And while you may already know what early action and early decision mean, using a “rolling admission” policy to your advantage is smart, too. If you’re not as familiar with that term, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

What is rolling admission?

Colleges that have a rolling admission policy review applications immediately upon receiving them. Usually, there’s a large window of time (at least six months) during which students can submit their applications, and admissions officers review those completed applications as they come in, rather than waiting until a hard deadline to review them all at once. This means that students who apply to universities with rolling admission policies often find out if they’ve been admitted sooner than others, typically within four to six weeks of submitting their application.


Rolling admission colleges still have deadlines!

Even though it doesn’t always align with standard application deadlines, the window to apply for the fall of an academic year does close—eventually. Be sure to do your research and note when the rolling admission universities on your list stop accepting applications for your intended semester.


Advantages of rolling admission

There are a number of benefits that come with applying to schools with a rolling admission policy, and we’ve already mentioned one of them: getting results earlier. That component alone can help you plan when (and if!) you’ll apply to the other schools on your list. And if you gain admission to your top-choice college, knowing sooner rather than later will reduce the stress that is so prevalent among students waiting on their college decisions. But perhaps the biggest advantage of applying to rolling admission universities is that your chance of acceptance increases if you check off all the minimum requirements and are among the first group of students to submit your application.


Disadvantages of rolling admission

The one disadvantage of rolling admission is the fact that you’ll have to submit your applications to these schools earlier than you would for others. And while, as we mentioned above, your chance of admission increases at these schools the earlier you apply, the opposite is true, too: If you wait too long to apply to a college with a rolling admission policy, there’s a chance all the slots will already be filled. That said, many rolling admission schools tend to have fewer requirements – perhaps no essay, or no letters of recommendation – so they can be easier applications to submit sooner.


How to reap the benefits of rolling admission

First, make sure you identify which colleges on your list use a rolling admission policy. Then, find out when the application window opens, and also when it closes. Prioritize those schools, and apply as close to the application opening as possible. That’s it!


Are rolling admissions decisions binding?

Technically, no. But there is one school, Wake Forest U, that uses rolling admission for its Early Decision cycle. That means they release decisions as you apply, as early as the summer before senior year. It’s one of the rare situations where you can hear back sooner and it’s a binding application. Otherwise, 99.9% of the time, rolling admissions truly just means you hear earlier, and you have until the spring of senior year to decide where you want to attend.


Why Do Colleges Offer Rolling Admission?

You’ll note below that most colleges who offer rolling admission are large institutions, many of whom don’t employ holistic review (i.e., they may not ask for many essays, letters of recommendation, or information beyond your academic profile). It’s easier to return a decision sooner, and students are often more likely to attend if they get in early. That’s because, once a student is in, the college can shift to recruiting mode by finding ways to encourage a student to attend.


Popular colleges with rolling admission

To find out if a college has a rolling admission policy, simply check their website. Here are ten popular universities that do.

  1. Penn State
  2. University of Pittsburgh
  3. University of Tulsa
  4. Michigan Technological University
  5. St. Louis University
  6. Arizona State University
  7. Iowa State University
  8. University of Nebraska
  9. University of Alabama
  10. Kansas State University

Financial Aid and Rolling Admission

One thing to remember with rolling admission is that it’s only one part of the process – even if you apply to a school in September of your senior year, you will need to wait until October 1st to file and submit your financial aid application through FAFSA (financial aid applications open every October 1st). So, while you may hear your admission decision early, you will have to wait until after you file your FAFSA to hear what your financial aid offer will be. Every office varies in how quickly they will return your financial aid offer, but we recommend that while you can apply to a college early through a rolling admission plan, you should wait until you have your financial aid offer in hand to officially commit to a school.


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