Students who choose to apply to college early may be admitted, denied, or deferred to the regular applicant pool.
Each year, we receive countless questions about how to navigate the obligations that come with each decision. So here’s a breakdown of what to do when faced with each potential outcome of early application.
Acceptance: Congratulations, you’ve been accepted! This outcome may seem the most straightforward, but we find that many students do not handle this decision tactfully. When admitted to a school through early action, you can wait until you hear from your remaining schools before making a decision. Occasionally, early action comes with a mandatory acceptance deadline that is earlier than regular decision deadlines, but there are most likely no other restrictions.
When you have been admitted to a school through early decision, you should withdraw your other applications. In recent years, there has been a trend of students waiting to hear from their other schools, but this is not only inappropriate, it actually violates the terms of the early decision contract. The only way you can be released from this agreement is if your financial aid does not permit you to attend.
If you do not withdraw your other applications once your financial award has been rendered, your other schools will eventually be notified that someone in their pool of applicants has been admitted to another school through early decision. We have seen students have their acceptances rescinded because they refused to withdraw their applications from other schools. So please, enjoy your acceptance — celebrate! But don’t leave schools hanging; provide them the same level of responsiveness you would hope to receive from them.
Denial: Yes, this is a total bummer. But we promise it’s not the end of the world. What’s most important about receiving a denial is how you handle it. We have seen students spiral into a vortex of self-doubt, which can lead to self-sabotaging behavior and other poor decisions.
Instead, you should take this opportunity to reflect, re-evaluate, and motivate yourself for the future. Don’t let a rejection derail you.
Some students think that a denial is the result of a lackluster application, so they should start fresh. But an application created in a few days or a week most likely isn't up to the same caliber as your original work. If you worked for three months on your personal essay and still received a rejection, definitely look it over one more time, but don’t throw it out! Sometimes you just weren’t a good fit for that particular school; that doesn't mean that there aren't fabulously exciting opportunities out there for you.
Deferral: Being deferred to the regular decision pool is one of the most jarring and confusing decisions a student can get. What does it even mean? Simply put, it means the admissions office likes your application, but isn't ready to make a decision just yet. They want to see what the rest of the applicant pool looks like before they give you an answer.
While a deferral may seem like a sugar-coated rejection, keep in mind that an admissions office won’t create unnecessary work for itself; it won’t keep your application around unless it is truly interested. If you would like to stay under consideration, carefully read the instructions that came with your decision notification. Some schools have specific steps they require you to take to make sure you remain in the pool of regular decision applicants.
If they do not give you detailed instructions, you may want to reply to the notification with a letter of continued interest, a short written piece thanking the admissions office for the update and stating your continued commitment to their institution. These letters typically should not be sent until mid to late January at the earliest. Please note that this is not a moment to beg or bargain, but rather one to show grace and maturity. Deferral is a waiting game, one that makes many students uncomfortable, but there is hope; you should see a deferral as a positive outcome.
Looking for more advice on the college process? Check out our Guide to College Admissions.