What Should You Do If You Miss a College Application Deadline?

College applicants have to juggle a lot of deadlines, making it difficult to keep track. Learn what to do if you miss a college application deadline.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on January 18, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
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What Should You Do If You Miss a College Application Deadline?


College application deadlines generally start as early as November and stretch into January. Some schools accept applications on a rolling basis with no set due dates. But what should you do if you miss a deadline?

In fall 2019, U.S. colleges received over 11.5 million applications for admission. Some of those applications almost certainly arrived after the official deadline. Many schools will accept late applications.

If you forget to submit your application on time, the following options can improve your chances of still scoring a college acceptance letter.

Option 1: Switch From Early Admission to Regular Decision

Around 450 colleges let students apply early, well before the typical January deadlines. The best solution for missing an early action or early decision deadline is to simply submit your application to that same school by the regular decision deadline instead.

Why do students apply in early cycles? Early decision works best for students with one clear top-choice school. Students accepted during the early decision round must attend if they receive an admission offer, while those accepted early action are not bound to that institution.

Early admission also gives students time to apply to other schools should they get rejected. Missing an early admission deadline might feel disappointing at first, but the upside is that you'll have another chance to apply to other colleges.

Option 2: Submit as Many Materials as Possible on Time

If the deadline is close and your application still isn't complete, submit as much of your application as possible on time.

Colleges are generally pretty understanding if transcripts and recommendation letters fail to reach the school before the deadline. Applicants often have limited control over whether these materials arrive before the due date since they must rely on their schools, teachers, and counselors to submit them.

After turning in your materials, reach out to the college or university to check the status of your application. An admissions counselor can provide advice on the school's procedures for completing a partial application.

Option 3: Reach Out to an Admissions Counselor

What if you miss the deadline completely — without submitting your application, essays, or any other materials? In this case, contact an admissions counselor as soon as possible. However, only do so if you have a solid reason for missing the deadline.

Many schools consider exceptions to their application deadlines. For example, admissions offices may extend the deadline for a family emergency, medical emergency, or other unforeseen crisis. If you have all the materials ready but can't afford the application fee, ask about a waiver for financial hardship.

The admissions office may request a written explanation for why you missed the deadline. Be sure to use a professional tone and lay out your case clearly and cogently. Also, make sure to express your enthusiasm for the school. This letter will be added to your admissions file if the school decides to consider your application.

Option 4: Research the Next Enrollment Cycle

If the admissions office won't consider your application, you have other options besides waiting a full year to reapply.

Many schools admit students multiple times a year. Instead of delaying college, consider taking community college classes or signing up for online classes. You might also consider a gap year or gap semester to work or volunteer. You can then apply to your top-choice school for spring or summer admission.

Students might also consider enrolling at a different school and then applying to their first-choice college as a transfer student.

Attending community college for a year can save students a significant amount of money while they work toward a bachelor's degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition and fees at an in-state community college cost around $3,400 in 2019-20. Four-year colleges, meanwhile, charged anywhere from $9,000-$32,000 in tuition and fees.

Option 5: Apply to Other Schools

Missing an application deadline doesn't have to mean missing out on college. Most students apply to multiple schools, so keep working on your applications. Since application deadlines start around November and typically go into January or February, there's a good chance you can still apply to other schools on your list.

If you miss the deadline for multiple schools, consider researching rolling-admission schools and alternative routes like community college and online programs.

Students can still make progress toward earning their college degree even if they miss the application deadline.


Feature Image: Towfiqu Barbhuiya / EyeEm / EyeEm / Getty Images

Learn how to apply to online college quickly and conveniently, and get a decision fast. Plan ahead and explore tips for a stress-free application experience. Colleges get thousands of applications each year. Learn about the most common application mistakes and how to avoid making them. To get into college, you must submit an application. Learn about the most common types of college applications and which schools use them.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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