Can I Apply to College After the Deadline?

In the world of college admissions, it’s best to complete tasks as early as possible. But for various reasons, that’s not always possible for some students. While May 1 has long been the traditional decision deadline across higher education — earning the name “College Decision Day” — there are always exceptions.

Some colleges allow late admissions deadlines, some just a few weeks prior to a semester starting. University of Colorado Denver, for example, accepted applications for first-year students up to July 31, 2023 despite the 2023-2024 academic year starting just a few weeks later. Ferris State University in Michigan accepts applications from incoming freshmen up to 30 days prior to a semester starting, according to its website.

Other colleges may not advertise it, but depending on class size and a student’s situation, some will still accept applications past their stated deadlines and well into the summer.

Students apply to a college late for various reasons, such as academic struggles, low standardized test scores, financial considerations or family needs. While some schools are less likely than others to accept late applications, experts say both students and schools can benefit from some flexibility.

For example, students who weren’t quite ready to apply to college within the traditional timeline may have made progress academically late in their senior year, says Liz Doe Stone, senior private counselor at Top Tier Admissions consulting company.

[READ: How to Get Admitted Off a College Waitlist: 7 Steps for Success.]

Other students may need or want to retake the SAT or ACT to earn a better score, experts say.

In turn, schools have the opportunity to consider students who come from potentially difficult situations, and accepting such students may benefit the overall diversity of the student body, Stone says.

“It’s great to know this flexibility does exist at schools where they might not even expect them to still be accepting applications later in the year,” she says. “I think it’s great that there are more schools that are being transparent about their willingness to speak with students or accept applications so late.”

Students can generally count on there being some schools willing to accept applications late, but the dynamics change every year since those decisions are largely based on class size and the specific needs to fill a cohort, says Sacha Thieme, assistant vice provost and executive director of admissions at Indiana University–Bloomington.

Some spaces may also open up when students who accepted an admissions offer decide to go elsewhere.

“We usually know close to around our May 1 deadline if we will have some available spaces in that class based on student response,” she says. “We may go to a waitlist that is already a predetermined group of students who we have qualified.”

The nonprofit National Association for College Admission Counseling typically compiles a list in the spring showing which schools are still accepting applications. For students who may be applying to college late, here’s what to expect.

How Late College Admissions Decisions Are Made

In a traditional admissions cycle, students often wait months to hear if they got into a college. But that pace accelerates later in the year as colleges that are still accepting applications into the summer look to fill classes before the fall. Colleges operate on their own timelines, with some making admissions decisions about late applicants within 24 to 48 hours or, in some cases, several weeks.

[READ: How Colleges Choose Which Students to Admit.]

“The most selective schools may simply shut off their online application while other schools will keep it active and anticipate late interest from students,” Jenn Winge, vice president for enrollment at the College of Wooster in Ohio, wrote in an email. “Once students submit the application, they should contact their school counselor to ensure supporting documents arrive promptly. Then, students should call the admissions office to share their interest and learn about next steps.”

Many schools want to know why the student is applying after the deadline. Explaining that is an important part of the process, Thieme says.

“The context is really helpful in any part of the application process, no matter how early or how late they send their application,” she says. “We’re also looking for that insight into the student’s decision-making or their goals orientation.”

Ultimately, decisions tend to come down to whether there is space, Thieme says. How big of a consideration this is often depends on the size of the school and certain requirements it has for students.

For example, IU requires first-year students to live on campus, so admissions officers have to make sure they have housing for every admitted student. There are also certain required courses for all freshmen, so classroom space in those courses also becomes a consideration.

If spaces open up, many universities the size of IU typically admit students off the waitlist before admitting late applicants, Thieme says. Their goal is to release students from their waitlist by early June so they can have closure if they were holding out on a spot. These students were typically waitlisted because the school didn’t have space available or couldn’t clearly determine if it would, she says.

“If later in the summer we have released that waitlist and space becomes available, sometimes those students who were on the waitlist will come back and ask around and we’ll consider them,” she says. “But if there was a late applicant who would fit a specific profile and we have the space, we will give them consideration. But it’s pretty rare.”

Logistical Considerations For Late College Admission

Applying beyond the traditional deadline may also mean students have to expedite actions on their end.

“Outside of some of the most selective institutions, many of us are still accepting and working with applicants,” Harvey Werner, director of undergraduate and international admissions at Loyola University New Orleans, wrote in an email. “Since the timeline between now and the start of the fall is much more compressed, students should be ready to move more quickly on action items and be ready to be much more responsive.”

There are many moving parts after a college admissions decision — signing up for classes, determining financial aid, finding housing and completing any other necessary paperwork. Students who apply for late admissions may not get their first choice when it comes to housing. They may also find that some courses they want to take are full and some scholarships are no longer available.

[Related:How to Decide if You’re Ready for College]

But students should recognize that each college is unique and they should check with school officials for specifics on financial aid and housing, as well as questions related to the application process. Answers can vary greatly from school to school.

Additional planning is required for students traveling a considerable distance to attend college.

“From a logistical standpoint, it can be a bit of a scramble that they have to really make sure that they’re in communication with their guidance counselor or college counselor at school to make sure things are sent in a super timely way,” Stone says.

However, that communication with school counselors may be difficult if students apply over the summer when school isn’t in session, Stone says.

“It’s a good idea at the end of the year, before you graduate, if you think you might be applying to college over the summer to make sure you have a copy of your official transcript and that you have contact information for teachers and counselors in case you need them,” she says. “The earlier that you can be on the ball if you know you might be in this situation, the better so that you can get everything organized.”

One consideration students should make when deciding whether to apply late is to determine whether it may be better to take a gap year or attend community college, then apply to a four-year university on a more traditional timeline during the next admissions cycle. Gap time can be a semester or full academic year and can offer students opportunities for experiential learning, employment and general maturity, experts say.

“If they missed the deadline on all the schools that are really of interest where they would be willing to spend those tuition dollars, then I would say it’s better to wait a year and get your GPA up or get a part-time job and get some research experience to deepen your academic profile and have a more strategic application the following year,” Stone says. “For a student that really wants to just be in college, that is ready to get going and would rather start somewhere and decide about transferring … then it’s worth considering.”

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.

More from U.S. News

Common Reasons College Applications Get Rejected

Everything You Need to Know About College Rolling Admissions

Avoid These Big College Application Mistakes

Can I Apply to College After the Deadline? originally appeared on

Update 11/02/23: This article was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up