Oops! I Forgot to Apply to College

Don't panic: More than 250 colleges are still accepting applications for fall enrollment.

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There's good news for seniors who haven't yet applied to college or aren't happy with the colleges they got into: It's not too late to get into some good and affordable colleges for the fall of 2009.

While most four-year colleges require students to apply before March 15 and make binding and expensive deposits by May 1, there are still more than 250 colleges accepting applicants for this fall, the National Association for College Admission Counseling announced Tuesday.

And, of course, almost all of the 1,152 public community colleges across the country are accepting applications throughout the summer. Students who do well at community colleges can transfer to four-year universities.

Late applicants don't have it any easier than the early birds, schools say. For example, Eureka College in Illinois, one of the schools on the NACAC list, says that it will reject any student, whether early or late, who has lower than a 17 on the ACT and a high school grade-point average below 2.3. Students can see if their grades and test scores match a school's profile by checking out admissions criteria at the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition, colleges typically hand out the biggest and best scholarships early to lock in top students. The schools usually have little money to hand out to late applicants. But the four-year colleges still accepting applicants will make sure that students get at least the government aid to which they are entitled. And in many cases, they can still offer at least some school scholarships, they say. Most of the schools on NACAC's list also say they can still place late applicants in dorm rooms.

The list includes big public universities, such as the Universities of Arizona, Iowa, and Pittsburgh. It also includes many private colleges, such as Columbia College Chicago and Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

Deadlines differ. Some, such as Eureka, accept applications as late as August. But college admissions counselors say the sooner students apply, the better, before dorm space and scholarships are all gone.

NACAC officials say the news that about 250 colleges still have space available this year isn't entirely positive. As recently as 2000, more than 350 schools reported having space available for freshmen during the summer. So the survey, which is not scientific, might indicate that late applicants will have a harder time this year than in years past because they're competing for fewer spots.

To persuade a school to accept you this late, John Sullivan, dean of admission and financial aid at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. (which has room for about 10 late applicants this summer), advises:

  • Fill out the application on the college's website.
  • Call the college's admissions office.
  • Be prepared to explain over the phone, and in a letter, why you are applying so late and why the school is a good fit.

"Don't panic!" Sullivan says. "Take your time, and put together a solid application. Do all the same steps you would have done in October."