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When Is the Best Time to Submit Your College Applications?

As I write this blog, I am reminded of how I tend to work. My nickname should be "Last Minute." My blog is due to my team right about now. Granted, it's been a busy week. Honestly, though, I rarely get things done days in advance. I seem to thrive under the pressure of a deadline.

But many of you are the opposite, and you often ask me if there's an advantage in submitting applications well before the due date. My answer will vary depending on the admissions program the student is applying to.

Here is a guide:

Rolling Admissions

If a college offers Rolling Admissions, you want to submit your application as soon as possible in senior year. That can mean sending in your application as early as August or September. These colleges make decisions on a "rolling" basis. As applications are submitted, decisions get rolled out sometimes in a matter of a few days or weeks. You will find that many state and public universities offer Rolling Admissions programs. If you follow me on Instagram, you have seen on my Story dozens of my Application Nation - Class of 2021 students already getting admitted to college. That is because they applied to a Rolling Admissions program! 
The sooner you get your application in, the better chance you have of being admitted. These colleges have plenty of room in the freshman class in the fall. But as the year goes on and spaces are filled, it will get harder to be admitted.

Early Decision and Early Action

Submitting your application before an Early Decision or Early Action deadline is always a good idea, but it doesn't necessarily mean your application is going to get read sooner. With more requirements to the application than most Rolling Admissions colleges, it can take several weeks for all of the pieces of the application to be received and processed from the testing organizations (if official test scores are required), high school, and letter writers. And, typically, admissions officers are busy leading up to the actual deadline. In a normal year, they are traveling in their region right up until the Early Decision and Early Action deadlines. This year they are doing a lot more virtual presentations to keep them busy. It's possible that some admissions offices have gotten a head start on reading these applications. But admissions decisions for Early Decision and Early Action tend to be released for all applicants on the same day. 
There are a few advantages of submitting an application well before the deadline for Early Decision and Early Action, though.
  • First, it will take some pressure off the student to know that their application has been submitted.
  • Second, they could have a better shot of getting an alumni interview if the college offers them. Alumni interviews are often generated when the student applies.
  • Third, it's always a smart idea to submit the application a few days or even a week in advance as most students wait until the last 24 hours before a deadline to submit their application and this can cause the system to slow down or even crash.
However, if a student submits their application well in advance of the deadline and something changes, like a senior year class, they will need to update the college. You just want to be careful not to update too many times because the admissions officer reading your application may get annoyed by all of the extra things that have changed since submitting your application.

Regular Decision

At almost every college, admissions officers aren't going to start reading Regular Decision applications until they finish reading and making decisions on the Early Decision or Early Action cases. And if you look at the timing of most Regular Decision deadlines, they come after a university-wide winter break. Most admissions officers won't read any applications over the holidays. They will wait until returning from the break to dive into Regular Decision applications. 
Submitting applications well before the Regular Decision deadline has the same benefits as it does in Early Decision and Early Action: gives the student peace of mind, possibly enables an alumni interview before others, and takes some pressure off. But again, if anything changes after the student submits their application, they need to be diligent and judicious about updating the college. If a student is admitted to an Early Decision program (or decides to commit to one of their Early Action or Rolling Admissions colleges), they will need to withdraw their Regular Decision applications—which means they will lose the application fee they paid.

Related reading: The One Piece of Your Application You Didn't Know Mattered So Much

In the end, it is always a good idea to give yourself extra time in submitting something so important as your college application.
In case something goes wrong in the submission process, you will have time to get it resolved. While submitting an application very early in senior year can help with Rolling Admissions programs, it doesn't give a student the same advantages in Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision. However, it is never a bad idea to get things done in advance. 
Before my own deadline passes on this blog, I'm going to hit the submit button right now!