What are rolling admissions? It’s when K–12 private schools accept and evaluate admission applications on an ongoing basis instead of having a fixed application deadline and review period. Many schools utilizing rolling admissions also offer mid-year enrollment in addition to the traditional start-of-school entry period.
Given the uncertainty around education and enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more private schools are turning to a rolling admissions model for the increased flexibility; however, rolling admissions also offers applying families several distinct benefits.
“For families who may have come late to the idea of [a private or boarding school] for their child,” said Rachel Carter, associate director of admissions at North Country School in Lake Placid, New York, “specifically looking for schools who use rolling admissions might offer them the best chance of finding a place for the upcoming fall.”
Waiting to change schools until the following fall isn’t always necessary. “Mid-year enrollment allows families who may not be familiar with independent schools an opportunity to research and learn more to help in the decision-making process,” said Keri Allard, associate director of enrollment at Madison Country Day School in Waunakee, Wisconsin.
In short, “Rolling admissions means that education is ready for you when you need it,” said Sarina Hamer, admissions and outreach coordinator at Lydian Academy in Menlo Park, California. “If there is a bad grade or a bad semester, it is possible to start new with a rolling admissions school. If you are at a crossroads and not sure what the next steps are, rolling admissions schools have experience helping students find alternative paths to meet your goals.”
Before applying to rolling admissions schools, there are some things you need to know about the process.
1. Rolling admissions isn’t an application speed pass.
While application requirements vary by school, the traditional criteria — application form, interview, essay, standardized test, recommendation letters — are still part of the process for most rolling admissions schools.
“Even though we use a rolling process, we still have an admissions committee that reviews each application, and all candidates are required to complete the same application steps,” said Rose Cooper, director of enrollment management at Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women in Rochester, New York.
“In some cases, families think that since we have a rolling process, they can speed through it quickly, or that decisions will be made on the same day that an application file is fully complete. It’s critical that families research a school’s decision timeline and application process — especially if it is late in the admissions cycle, there is a concern about enrollment availability, or it is close to the start of the school year.”
2. Rolling admissions doesn’t guarantee openings.
While rolling admissions schools may accommodate applicants who are late entries to the application process, it still behooves families to apply as soon as possible.
“The main tip I would give prospective families,” said Bridgette Rappoport, director of admission at Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon, “is not to assume just because a school has rolling admission that they can wait to apply or that there will be space available.”
Cooper echoed the sentiment. “Families who apply later in the cycle often assume that because we use a rolling process (starting in fall and going through the summer), we will always have enrollment openings available. However, our enrollment for certain grades generally becomes very limited by May or June.”
It’s important to note that availability varies by grade, which can become tricky for families looking to place multiple kids. External factors such as the pandemic may also have a significant impact. In December, David Darby, assistant head: enrolment management at Lakefield College School in Lakefield, Ontario, reported that his school has “begun wait pools in two grades already.”
3. Rolling admissions schools may still have deadlines.
“Rolling admissions is not a deadline-free process,” Cooper said. “We still have several key dates and deadlines to be aware of that students need to meet. For example, students wishing to apply for certain scholarships need to complete their admissions application by a specific deadline.”
Speaking of tuition assistance . . .
4. The early bird gets the financial aid.
“Families applying for tuition assistance should not only apply early but are encouraged to submit their application for funding before awaiting an admissions decision,” Darby said.
Many schools with rolling admissions also conduct rolling financial aid decisions; it’s also common for rolling admissions schools to have set tuition assistance review periods. Either way, the pool of available funding has a limit, and the rolling admissions process is predisposed to first-come, first-served financial aid awards.
“We always have a few families who are surprised that there isn't financial aid left in late summer,” Cooper said. “While we have a generous financial assistance budget, it isn't unlimited.”
5. Mid-year transfers: What happens to grades and credits?
“It is important to understand what your home school will do with transcript grades and credit if transferring over mid-semester or mid-year,” Hamer said. “Will they give students partial credit if it is a mid-semester transfer?
“On the flip side, it is imperative that parents consider the school being transferred to and how they will treat the transcript. Will they accept partial credit? Is the school willing to incorporate the partial grade into their final grade? Does the student have to start from the beginning of the term, or is there any flexibility in honoring what they have already accomplished at their home school?
“Be sure to work with a school counselor at both schools so that a student is getting what they need, and to build their transcript in the best light for the future.”
6. Conclusion: Talk to the school as early as possible.
With so many factors to consider on top of rolling admissions’ variable nature, families should engage with schools as early as possible.
“Creating that direct connection and relationship with the school will help them get a feel for the community, ensure they understand the application process and timeline, and generally is just a great way to continue to learn more,” said Jon Holmes, associate director of admissions at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario. “Submitting an inquiry or application should be the first step, and then engage directly.”