Is It Too Late to Apply to College? What You Need to Know

01/07/202425 minute read
Is It Too Late to Apply to College? What You Need to Know

This blog post addresses the common concern "Is it too late to apply to college?" by exploring application deadlines and the consequences of applying late. You'll find all you need to know, including tips on planning ahead, the ins-and-outs of application deadlines, and practical strategies for applying to college late. Readers will also find insights from Crimson experts on the best ways to navigate the college application process, even when falling behind on timelines, applying late, or missing an application deadline.


Applying to college is a significant milestone, but sometimes life gets in the way, and you might find yourself applying later than planned, making it very valuable to know your options and strategies for applying late.

Reasons You Might Be Late Applying for College

There are several reasons why you might find yourself applying late to college:

  • Indecision: You may have had trouble deciding whether you wanted to go to college or which schools to apply to.
  • Financial Concerns: Financial questions, concerns, or constraints can delay your application process.
  • Personal Hardship: Unexpected events or family emergencies can disrupt your plans.

Consequences of Applying Late

Applying late can have several consequences:

  • Incomplete Applications: Rushing can lead to poorly prepared or incomplete applications.
  • Delayed Enrollment: You might have to put off starting college for a whole year.
  • Limited Options: Your school options may be limited to those with late application deadlines or rolling admissions.
  • Lost Opportunities: You risk losing scholarship opportunities or financial aid arrangements if you miss deadlines.

One of the best ways to avoid missing deadlines is to understand the application process, including the typical application calendar, application cycles, and key timelines and deadlines. It's also helpful to know your options when you are applying late to college or miss a deadline.

This blog post will guide you through understanding college application deadlines and outline how you can still make your college journey as effective as possible when applying late.

As a bonus, you'll also find insights from Crimson Education strategists that will help you refine your late-application strategies along with answers to common questions Crimson students ask about applying late to college.

What Is the Deadline to Apply for College Admission?

With some exceptions, such as rolling admissions, virtually every college has a deadline by which applications for enrollment in the next fall term must be submitted. In addition, many schools offer different application cycles, each with a varying deadline.

Understanding Admission Rounds and Deadlines

  • Early Action/Early Decision Rounds: These application rounds typically have deadlines earlier, often in early November or December. Some schools may have a second cycle of early-round applications with a later deadline.
  • Regular Decision: The regular decision round is the cycle used by most applicants. Deadlines for this cycle typically fall between mid-December and early January, though they can fall be as early as November or as late as March or even April, for some schools.

What to Do If You Miss an Early-Round Application Deadline?

If you miss an early action or early decision deadline, you can still apply to the same school in the regular decision application round.

What to Do If You Miss a Regular Decision Application Deadline?

The regular decision application deadlines are typically the last chance for you to submit your application for the fall term of the next school year. After this deadline, your application would be late, and in most cases, it won’t be considered. You’ll have to apply for a later term or consider other options.

When Is It Too Late to Apply for College?

It's usually too late to apply for college if you miss the last application deadline. If a school offers more than one application cycle, such as early round and regular-decision, then the regular decision application deadline is usually your last chance.

For many top schools, the regular decision deadline will fall in December or January. Some schools have deadlines in February and March, but your options will be more limited after January.

In almost all cases, once the deadline has passed, your application will not be accepted or considered, as most schools strictly enforce application deadlines.

Why It May Already Be Too Late — Even Before the Deadline

Numerous application components require advance preparation on your part. If you don’t begin some processes weeks or even months ahead of an application deadline, you’re likely to find it impossible to apply on time, even if the deadline is weeks away. Planning ahead is critical for ensuring various important and/or mandatory application components get submitted on time along with the application itself:

  • Standardized Test Scores: These may be required or recommended for many schools.
  • High School Transcripts: Processing times for submitting transcripts can vary from several days to several weeks, especially for the "official" copies or "certified" copies, when required.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Requesting these at the last minute can be problematic. Most recommenders won’t be keen on your procrastination turning into their urgent task. Not providing enough advance notice when requesting a letter is poor etiquette, and it may mean missing a deadline too!
  • College Essays: These are effectively under your control as the applicant, but trying to do them well on short notice can be challenging and may jeopardize your overall application quality.
  • FAFSA Paperwork: This typically requires lots of financial information and can be time consuming.

“Students must submit the FAFSA to be eligible for federal financial aid like work-study, student loans and the Pell Grant, as well as a range of other college and state need-based aid. In addition to keeping the federal deadline in mind, students must juggle multiple independent FAFSA deadlines unique to their college and state. The difference between filing early, on time or late can amount to thousands of dollars in funding to pay for college.”

- "FAFSA Deadlines You Should Know." US News & World Report

How to Apply Late to College — Missed Deadlines

Let’s imagine you’ve missed a deadlines to apply for enrollment in the fall term. Now you’re wondering if you have any options available. Is there any way to apply late? If you don’t get an offer for the fall, what should you do?

Grace Periods: Some schools may have formal or de-facto grace periods that will allow an application that is submitted a few hours or perhaps even a few days late to be accepted and considered. Formal grace periods, where they do exist, will vary from school to school.

As for de-facto grace periods, these could simply be based on internal school procedures, and could create a brief window for a late submission. For example, if the deadline falls on a Friday, maybe the admissions office will simply decide they’re going to accept and process any applications that arrive before the subsequent Monday morning… This is just an imaginary scenario, however, meaning a de-facto grace period is not something you want to rely on! It's far better to get applications in well ahead of any deadline, sparing yourself the stress of a last-minute scramble!

“In my year, I submitted my supplement [to Harvard] two hours late and was accepted — no questions asked. When I later spoke to the admissions office they told me that they have a small grace period — usually a few days — where they don’t mind. Remember, it takes them a few days just to start to download and process the tens of thousands of applications they get anyway!...”

- Respondent on College Confidential

Accommodations & Appeals: Some schools may make exceptions and allow you to apply late, which may require a favorable decision by the institution after a formal appeal process. However, this is uncommon at highly selective and competitive schools due to the volume of applications and competitive landscape. At less selective schools, the odds for accommodations may be different. Check the school’s policies on their website. If needed, call the admissions office to inquire about any possible accommodations.

Late Applications vs. Late Application Components: If your application is submitted on time, you may still be struggling to ensure that things like letters of recommendation, official transcripts, or test-score reports also get to the admissions office before the deadline. For example, Harvard tells prospective applicants that materials submitted by their school counselor can be submitted up to a week after the application deadline, if necessary. There’s also some leeway for SAT scores:

If you are applying Restrictive Early Action, we would like your testing results by the end of October; however, you may submit the November series if needed. For Regular Decision, although it is possible to submit scores from tests taken as late as the February [series], we recommend that you submit testing as early as possible.

Stanford also has explicit policies about submitting supplementary application components late:

Official transcripts and official TOEFL scores received after the deadline will not have any negative impact on the review of your application, as long as the unofficial transcripts and test scores are provided in the online application by the deadline. Letters of recommendation received after the deadline will still be attached to your application, but we cannot guarantee they will be seen by the Admissions Committee if they arrive after the review of applications has begun.

Look for Alternative Target Schools: Some schools have much earlier deadlines than others. Take the University of California for example. Applications for all UC campuses are due November 30th!  The Ivies and Stanford have regular decision deadlines at the beginning of January.

These are all great schools, and if you had any on your list of reach or target schools, it would be very disappointing to miss the deadline. That said, there are still many schools with regular decision deadlines that fall much later, in Mid- to Late-January or even February or March… Research these schools as potential options.

Apply to Schools Offering Rolling Admissions: Rolling admissions means that the school welcomes, accepts, and evaluates applications on an ongoing basis. However, schools differ in how much time they require to process and evaluate your application.

Depending on the circumstances, this option could help you enroll for the fall term. Be aware that classes may fill up beforehand, or administrative deadlines may prevent you from enrolling in the nearest term, meaning you might have to start in a later term or the following school year. For reasons like these, always be sure to check into "priority dates and deadlines," even when you're applying to a school that offers rolling admissions.

“While rolling admissions means that colleges will review applications as received, there may still be priority deadlines for when a school prefers to have information submitted. ”

- “10 Top National Universities with Rolling Admissions.” US News & World Report

Applying late to college can be stressful, but it’s not the end of the road. By understanding your options and employing the right strategies, you can still find a path to higher education. Don’t give up hope if you’re applying late — research your options, reach out to schools, and stay positive.

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The Application Deadlines of Top US Colleges

If you're applying to schools among the top 25 US colleges and universities, or similar schools that are highly selective, it's important to establish an application timeline no later than the summer before your senior year in high school. You'll also want to map out a schedule for SAT/ACT test prep and test taking even earlier, as you approach your junior year in high school.

The table below lists a good number of the most popular top US colleges and universities and the regular decision application deadline for each institution.

The Application Deadlines of Top US Colleges & Universities
UniversityRegular Decision Application Deadline*
Ivy League Colleges & UniversitiesEarly January
StanfordEarly January
MITEarly January
University of ChicagoEarly January
CaltechEarly January
University of California (all campuses)End of November
NorthwesternEarly January
University of Southern CaliforniaJanuary 15 (December 1 for some majors)
Johns HopkinsEarly January
Carnegie MellonEarly January
University of Notre DameEarly January
GeorgetownEarly January
RiceEarly January
University of Washington, St. LouisEarly January
University of MichiganEarly February
University of VirginiaEarly January

* Dates subject to change — always check with the admissions office for the most up-to-date admissions information.

Colleges with Later Application Deadlines

After early January, it will be too late to apply to Ivy League schools and most other top-ranked US colleges and universities. But, there are a good number of compelling colleges and universities, private and public, which give you additional time to submit your application by offering application deadlines in February or March.

Partial List of Schools with Feb/March Application Deadlines
UniversityApplication Deadline*
Seattle Pacific UniversityFeb. 1
Spelman CollegeFeb. 1
University of Wisconsin, MadisonFeb. 1
SUNY University at Stony BrookFeb. 1
University of Massachusetts, LowellFeb. 15
University of North Carolina, AshevilleFeb. 15
Georgia State UniversityMarch 1
Lewis & Clark College March 1
Temple UniversityMarch 1
University of CincinnatiMarch 1
University of North Carolina, GreensboroMarch 1
Whitworth UniversityMarch 1

* Dates subject to change — always check with the admissions office for the most up-to-date admissions information.

Partial List of Schools with April/May Application Deadlines
UniversityApplication Deadline*
College of CharlestonApril 1
University of HoustonApril 1
New College of FloridaApril 15
Austin CollegeMay 1
Regent UniversityMay 1
Texas State UniversityMay 1
University of ArizonaMay 1
University of Central FloridaMay 1
Eastern Washington UniversityMay 15

* Dates subject to change — always check with the admissions office for the most up-to-date admissions information.

Partial List of Schools with Rolling Admissions*
Rutgers University (Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden)
Purdue University, West Lafayette
Michigan State University
Rochester Institute of Technology
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
The Pennsylvania State University
University of Pittsburgh
Indiana University, Bloomington
University of Buffalo, SUNY
Binghamton University, SUNY
University of South Florida
Washington State University
University of Colorado, Denver

* Remember that many schools with rolling admissions still have priority deadlines or recommended deadlines that may impact the admissions process. Check with each school for more complete information about application deadlines and priorities.

Crimson Insights: How to Apply Late to College

Navigating application deadlines can be challenging, especially if you anticipate difficulties applying on time. Here are some tips and insights from experienced Crimson admissions strategists to help you stay on track:

Plan Ahead: Even if you’re undecided about attending college, start planning anyway. It’s easier to defer enrollment or change your mind later than to scramble to complete applications at the last minute or face a gap year because you decided too late.

Know Your Deadlines: Be aware of the deadlines for all your reach, target, and safety schools. If you anticipate hardships or decision-making delays, knowing which schools have earlier or later deadlines can help you prioritize.

Add Safety Schools with Later Deadlines: Include at least two safety schools with mid- or late-spring deadlines, or ones with rolling admissions.

FAQs: Is It Too Late to Apply for College?

1. When Is It Too Late to Apply for College?

Once the regular decision application deadline has passed, it’s typically too late to apply for the fall term. Most regular decision deadlines fall between November 1st and mid-February. However, some colleges have deadlines extending into March, April, and May, and others offer rolling admissions.

2. Can You Apply After the Deadline?

If your application is submitted after the published deadline, the institution may not consider it, especially in competitive admissions settings. If you’ve submitted your application late, promptly reach out to the admissions office to understand your options.

3. What Do I Do If I Miss the Application Deadline for the Fall Term?

Consider applying for the subsequent term (quarter or semester). Check with the school’s admissions office about options and deadlines for other terms. If you miss a term or a whole year, think about productive ways to spend that time, such as working to earn money for college or taking general education courses at an accredited state or community college with more flexible enrollment options.

4. Will Applying Late Hurt My Chances for Admission?

Yes, it very well might. There’s a good chance your application will not be considered if submitted late. If it is considered, it may be given secondary priority, and scholarship opportunities could be jeopardized. Additionally, a late or poorly prepared application may reflect poorly on your readiness for college, negatively impacting your chances for admission.

5. Is Applying to Schools with Extended Application Deadlines a Good Strategy?

Applying to schools with extended deadlines is a viable strategy, but it limits your options. Most top US colleges and universities have deadlines between November and January. Applying later means you’ll have fewer schools to choose from and may miss out on opportunities at more competitive institutions.

Final Thoughts

Applying late to college can be a daunting experience, but it’s important to remember that the rewards of a life-changing educational experience after high school should make it well worth your effort.

By understanding your options, planning ahead, and utilizing the strategies outlined in this post, you can still find a path to higher education. Whether you’re dealing with missed deadlines or simply need guidance on the next steps, there are always ways to navigate the process successfully.

If you have any questions about applying late to college or need personalized advice on your college journey, don’t hesitate to reach out. Schedule a free feedback session with a Crimson Education specialist today. Our experts are here to help you every step of the way, ensuring you make informed decisions and achieve your academic goals.

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