What Is Rolling Admission?

Sign for a University admissions office.

sshepard / E+ / Getty Images

Unlike a regular admission process with a firm application deadline, rolling admission applicants are often notified of their acceptance or rejection within a few weeks of applying. A college with rolling admission typically accepts applications for as long as spaces are available. That said, applicants can hurt their chances of being admitted it they put off applying for too long.

Key Takeaways: Rolling Admission

  • Colleges with rolling admission don't shut down the admission process until all spaces in the class are filled.
  • Rolling admission applicants often receive a decision from the college within a few weeks of applying.
  • Applying early in the process can improve your acceptance chances and give you advantages when it comes to financial aid and housing.

What Is a Rolling Admission Policy?

While many colleges and universities in the U.S. employ a rolling admission policy, very few of the most selective colleges use it. Highly selective schools tend to have a firm application deadline in January or February and a specific date when students are notified of an admissions decision, often in late March.

With rolling admission, students have a large window of time during which they can apply to a college or university. The application process typically opens up in the early fall like most colleges, and it may continue right through the summer until classes begin. Rolling admission schools rarely have a specific date when students are notified if they have been accepted. Instead, applications are reviewed as they arrive, and admissions decisions are delivered as soon as they are available.

Rolling admission should not be confused with open admission. The latter pretty much guarantees that any student who meets some basic requirements will be admitted. With rolling admission, the college or university may still be quite selective and send out a high percentage of rejection letters. It is also a mistake to think that it doesn't matter when you apply to a rolling admission college or university. Early is always better.

The Advantages of Applying Early to a Rolling Admission School

Applicants should realize that it is a mistake to view rolling admission as an excuse to put off applying to college. In many cases, applying early improves an applicant's chance of being accepted. 

Applying early carries many other perks as well:

  • Applicants may receive a decision long before the March or April notification period of regular admission colleges.
  • Applying early can improve an applicant's chance of being accepted since it both demonstrates your interest and ensures that programs haven't yet filled.
  • Applying early may improve an applicant's chance of receiving a scholarship, as financial aid resources may run dry late in the application season.
  • Applying early often gives an applicant the first choice for housing.
  • Most rolling admission colleges still give students until May 1 to make a decision. This allows applicants plenty of time to weigh all options.
  • A student who applies early and is rejected may still have time to apply to other colleges with winter deadlines.

The Dangers of Applying Late

While the flexibility of rolling admission may sound attractive, realize that waiting too long to apply can have several disadvantages:

  • While the college may not have a firm application deadline, it may have set deadlines for scholarships and financial aid. It is also possible that financial aid is simply first-come, first-served. Waiting too long to apply can hurt your chances of getting good funding for college.
  • Your chances of being admitted will be better if you apply early. There may be no application deadline, but programs or even the entire entering class can fill. If you wait too long, you run the danger of learning that no spaces are available.
  • Campus housing most likely has a priority deadline, so if you put off applying, you may find that all on-campus housing is filled or that you get placed in one of the school's less desirable residence halls.

Some Sample Rolling Admission Policies

The schools below are all selective but they do accept applications until the enrollment goals have been met.

  • University of Minnesota: Application review begins late in the summer. Priority is given to applications received by January 1st. After January 1st, applications are considered on a space-available basis. Applying by January 1st guarantees full consideration for scholarships and the Honors Program.
  • Rutgers University: December is the 1st priority deadline, February 28th is the notification date, and May 1st is the decision deadline. After December 1st, applications are considered on a space-available basis, and if the program to which you are applying is full, your application will be withdrawn from consideration.
  • Indiana University: November 1st is the priority date for merit-based scholarships, February 1st is the priority date for admission, and April 1st is the deadline to be considered for admission.
  • Penn State: November 30 is the priority date for admission.
  • University of Pittsburgh: Applications are accepted until classes are full, but January 15th is the deadline for scholarships.

Learn About Other Types of Admission

Early Action programs typically have a deadline in November or December and students receive a notification in December or January. Early Action is non-binding and students still have until May 1st to decide whether or not to attend.

Early Decision programs, like Early Action, typically have deadlines in November or December. Early Decision, however, is binding. If you are admitted, you must withdraw all of your other applications.

Open Admission policies guarantee admission for students who meet some minimum requirements related to coursework and grades. Community colleges tend to have open admissions, as do quite a few four-year institutions.

A Final Word

You would be wise to treat rolling admission like regular admission: submit your application as early as possible to increase your chances of being admitted, getting good housing, and receiving full consideration for financial aid. If you put off applying until late in the spring, you may be admitted but your admission may come with significant costs because college resources have been rewarded to students who applied earlier.

Rolling admission schools can also serve as a fallback if you find that you are rejected or waitlisted from all the schools to which you applied. Getting that kind of bad news in the spring doesn't mean that you can't go to college — plenty of reputable schools are still accepting applications from qualified candidates.