So You Didn’t Get Immediate Acceptance to Your Early App College

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Early Decision and Early Action notifications are beginning to trickle out now, with most making their way to inboxes all over the country by Friday, December 14! You’ve probably gone back and forth between truly believing you’ll be accepted right away to deeply questioning whether it was even worth applying. That zig-zagging is totally natural—pretty much everyone goes through it. Of course, there are many factors that go into how colleges make their decisions about an individual applicant, many of which are far beyond the applicant’s control. 

For many early applicants, they have begun work on the second wave of their college apps, which include later deadlines. Some call it a Plan B; I don’t, though, because it’s all one big plan. Almost every student I work with has a long-view plan that includes one, two, or even three waves of applications, and we execute the plan confidently and early despite how confident we are about any one particular college decision. Keeping options open is the goal until it’s time to make the decision. In the case of students admitted Early Decision, that time is soon. For everyone else, they generally have all the way until May 1 before having to make a final choice.

If you are one of the students eagerly awaiting a response from the colleges you applied to with early deadlines, here is what you may hear back by mid-December, what it means, and next steps you can take:

DENIED 

If you are rejected (or as some colleges are wont to say these days, “redirected”) from your early deadline school, see that as a blessing in disguise. Be proud of yourself for taking a risk and going for what you wanted, despite the odds. No need to do a post-mortem. From what I’ve seen in my experience, if you’re rejected early (and not deferred), you would have been rejected during the regular decision round too–but it’s a good idea nonetheless to make sure your application is in the best possible shape for your other school choices. If you were banking on an early choice that denied you, you’ll be grateful for having a robust second wave of applications ready to go. If you feel that the decision was based on misinformation or there were extenuating circumstances not conveyed in your application package, some schools have an appeal process. This is something to consider, not because you’re disappointed in the decision but because you have specific evidence that they didn’t have the full picture before rejecting you.

DEFERRED

Sometimes deferral means that you’re qualified but that the school wants to make sure that it gets a full picture of its options for an incoming class before devoting a spot to you. Some schools, such as Georgetown and Harvard, will only either accept or defer (and not reject) in the early round, which I think is awful, because it’s better to be put out of your misery than get the mixed signal of deferral if the school knows it’s just not going to take you. Other schools, such as Vanderbilt University, only admits or rejects for early decisions and only rarely defers if at all. In any case, if you’re deferred, it isn’t over yet!

If you applied ED and are deferred, you are no longer bound to the school and are free to attend any of the schools that accept you. Deferral does not mean rejection, which means there’s still hope, but I think it’s best not to count on it. Generally, deferrals turn into acceptances about 10 percent of the time. I’m not suggesting you use that figure to make decisions but say that only to send the message that it’s best to treat a deferral like a rejection and move forward wholeheartedly with your next wave of apps, as you’ve already planned to do. Still, even though the odds are not in your favor, it makes sense to create a deferral response plan so that you know you’ve done everything you could before getting the final word, one way or the other. It’ll make you feel better to look back and be able to say to yourself that there was no stone left unturned. This work is not in place of moving forward with your overall college app plan.

Here’s another piece of advice: If you’re still interested in the school that deferred you, don’t let your deferred application just sit there in the same state for its second review in the regular application pool. Adding an additional layer of context for admissions could tip the decision in your favor. 

ACCEPTANCE

Congrats! You’ve been accepted. You have a spot in the incoming freshman class. If you applied early decision (ED), you are done, because you have committed to attending that school next fall. The school will expect a deposit soon from you. If you applied early action (EA), then you have made no commitment, and you have all the way until May 1, the National College Decision Day, to make your decision. You are free to continue executing the next wave of your college application plan.

EARLY DECISION II?

Don’t forget that a number of schools that offer ED also offer ED II. This means they are OK with being your second choice. They will allow you to make a binding commitment to attending their school and will accept your ED II application at a later date (usually in the first week of January), which, of course, is after you’ve been notified (sometime in December) of a rejection or deferral from your ED I school. This gives you a similar admission benefit to applying ED I. Some students actually arrive at the decision to commit to a school later than the ED I deadlines and therefore commit to a school for the first time during ED II.

In Sum...
The notifications you receive from your early deadline schools provide interesting data that are useful to consider when making decisions about your next steps. If your ED choice doesn’t work out initially, your next step is to revisit the group of options you would be happy to consider before you have to make a final decision in the spring. Ultimately, you are applying to a number of schools to which you will say “no, thanks” to all but one. So be sure that you’ve got the security of a bunch of schools that are good fits and that range in selectivity, so that at the end of this process, all of your possible outcomes are happy ones.