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Is There an Advantage to Submitting the College Application Before the Deadline?

Over the coming days, there will be millions of high school seniors submitting applications with Regular Decision deadlines. Parents tend to worry about the deadlines even more than their kids. In fact, I often get asked by parents if submitting an application days or weeks before a deadline will help their child's chances of admission. Here are my answers to every scenario you may face:

  • If a student applies to a Rolling Admissions program (this is most common at state universities), there is an advantage to submitting the application in the early months of the fall when there is a lot more space in the class. A student with a slightly less competitive application has a better chance of admission in the early months than later on when the selectivity increases as the class starts to fill up.
  • But for students applying to Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision programs (most of the selective public and private colleges), submitting an application well in advance does not give a student an advantage in admission. However, it might give the student a better chance of getting an interview in their local area by an alumni volunteer.
  • Most college admissions offices need time to process all of the materials being submitted by the deadline. That's why admissions officers usually don't start reading applications for the next round until AFTER the deadline. Sometimes it would take a week or two after the deadline for me to have enough applications to read each day. Processing takes time - even with the advances of technology.
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  • Most colleges, though, will document when the student submitted the application - date and even the time. Be aware that they will know if you submitted the application at 11:59 pm on the deadline.
  • Which brings up another common question, if the deadline is January 1st, does that mean 12:00 am on January 1st or 11:59 pm on January? It means 11:59 pm - the last possible moment of that day.
  • And, if a student lives in a different time zone than the college, they should submit their application at 11:59 pm their time (not the college's time).
  • Waiting until 11:59 pm to submit an application before the deadline is risky, though. There will be a lot of students doing this and it can delay the application from getting submitted on-time. It is fairly common for the last hour or so before a deadline to be the busiest. Try to get the application submitted hours or days in advance in case there is an issue.
  • Late applications are at the mercy of the admissions office. Some colleges widely accept late applications. Why? Because they want their application totals to be as high as possible. Other colleges like the University of California system will not accept any applications past the deadline - no exceptions.
  • Finally, if a student has trouble over break submitting their application, send an email to the general admissions email account. There is usually someone assigned to answer these questions over the break. Calling the admissions office may not be fruitful as most offices are closed over break.

Does the early bird get the worm when it comes to college admissions? It can help to submit an application before the deadline. But when it comes to selective private and some public colleges, just getting the application in by the deadline will suffice. Best of luck to all the high school seniors submitting applications in the next few days!