Did You Miss a College Application Deadline?

A step-by-step guide to what you should do if you miss a college application deadline.

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If you've ever been ticking through a to-do list only to realize you're late to complete a very important task, then you are familiar with the feeling of dread that follows. But when it comes to submitting a college application, there is a different sort of worry attached to forgetting about a deadline:

  • Will I have to wait until next term to apply?
  • Is there a late fee for applying after the deadline?
  • How could I have forgotten about this?!

Still, on average, college advisors, recommend students stop panicking about a missed deadline and, instead, get to work. "Many admissions committee rules are actually only guidelines," said Jon Frank, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Admissionado, said of general college application guidelines. "It is common, for example, that schools will post 'minimum TOEFL/SAT/ACT scores,' while accepting a number of students who do not meet that level of requirement. Along those lines, schools will likely be willing to speak with you, should you miss a deadline."

If an application deadline is missed, then take immediate steps to contact the school's admissions office.

As for application tardiness, however, Frank stresses that it is important a student has a legitimate reason for missing a deadline. Translation: A simple "I just forgot," is not going to cut it.

Kafi Martin, CEO and founder of Degrees of Success Inc., agreed with Frank and said that, while college deadlines are typically in place for a reason, "if an earth shattering, unavoidable and unexpected major crisis occurs and a student misses an application deadline," there are four steps he or she must take:

1. Contact the admissions office and ask to speak with an officer. If the student has already visited the school and has the contact information of an officer, then contact him or her.

2. The student should explain why he or she missed the deadline and what steps he or she has taken to correct the error.

3. Mail or submit in person, a copy of the completed application and speak with an officer about it immediately.

4. Follow up with the officer at set dates to know whether the application is being considered or not (chances are a committee will decide whether to grant an exception or not).

"The margin for mistakes on the application deadline is miniscule and subject to rare circumstances," Martin said. "If the deadline was missed because of the student’s own negligence, they've most likely missed that opportunity and will have to wait until next semester to apply. A time-oriented, written plan can help you avoid this costly mistake."

Cheryl Delaney, Senior College Advisor at International College Counselors, said, while each school has different policies, the options are limited for a student whose lack of submission was mere oversight, including:

  • Reapply for the following year.
  • Seek admission to the spring term, which usually has fewer students on campus.
  • Apply to schools with rolling admissions. Schools with rolling admissions don’t have firm deadlines and continue to accept applications until the classes are full. A student may go to one of these schools for a semester and then try to transfer in later.
  • Wait a year or take a gap year and then reapply. During a gap year, students may take community college courses, travel, earn money, do community service, learn a new language or many other options.

"Students should also note that for many schools, the earlier they apply, the better their chances are for getting accepted," Delaney said.

"The same often holds true for getting financial aid and housing options — the earlier you apply, the better your chances are for getting aid or getting your housing request." Like Delaney, Martin stressed that late applications — even if they are accepted — often end up at the bottom of the pile.

Students with late applications have a reality to face, according to Martin, "applications will only be reviewed if there are spots left after the early and regular admission cycles –– and this is unlikely," she said. "It also puts them at the bottom of the list for financial aid. Applying late puts the student at a significant disadvantage and their chances for admission and financial aid are reduced by at least 50 percent."

So, what's the honest truth? "Hit your deadlines people," Frank said. "After all, if you can’t make a simple deadline, you may have more trouble when the 'real' college work begins!"

Quick Tips

  • If an application deadline is missed, then take immediate steps to contact the school's admissions office.
  • Consider taking core classes at a local college if a you must put off attending school for a year.
  • Get your application in early for better financial aid and housing options.

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