You Didn’t Get in Early Decision. Now What?

I understand the advantage (at some schools) of applying Early Decision. But I’ve never been an advocate of encouraging kids to get their hearts set on a particular school. College admission is never a guarantee and not always even predictable. I’m a much bigger proponent of casting a wide net and keeping an open mind. Things will work out. That said, I concede that there are kids (and parents) whose immediate happiness rests in an early to mid-December decision. What happens, though, when that admissions notification doesn’t begin with “congratulations”?

early decision

First, try to understand a bit about why Early Decision exists. Colleges have enrollment targets. Predicting how many students will accept offers of admission is becoming increasingly challenging as students continue to apply to more and more schools. But when you apply using the Early Decision option, you’re committing to accepting the offer. The statement you’re asked to sign on most Early Decision applications says, essentially, “I will accept the offer if you make one.” Early Decision offers are at nearly a 100% acceptance rate. Subsequently, these “sure deals” are attractive to most institutions. It decreases the unpredictability of at least a portion of their offer pool. It’s insurance.

The Balance

Some more elite institutions could secure their entire class through the Early Decision option. This idea, however, would be frowned upon. Because students have to commit to accepting the offer before they even know what their scholarship or financial aid package might look like, Early Decision is sometimes viewed as being elitist and skewed toward the wealthy. If colleges fill too much of their class with Early Decision applicants it can give the impression that they’re discriminating against the less-privileged students who need to know their aid package before they commit.

Filling too much of your class with the Early Decision pool also presents the chance that colleges could miss out on fantastic candidates for admission who simply weren’t sure about their first choice at the time of application. Many Regular Decision candidates may be more qualified/attractive than those who applied during Early Decision. Colleges want to be sure to leave room for these candidates so they’re not going to fill all of their spaces before they have a chance to survey the entire pool.

The Responses and What They Mean

If you’ve applied Early Decision to a college (and you should have applied Early Decision to only one college because you can only have one first choice that you’re sure you would accept), then you’ll likely receive one of three notifications sometime in the month of December.

  1. You might get the, “Congratulations” notification. Great! Fantastic! It was your first choice and you know now where you’ll be living this time next year. Hopefully you’ll get a sweatshirt from said college for Christmas or Hanukkah or during Winter Break.
  2. You might get the, “We’re going to defer your application to Regular Decision review” notification. Not what you’d hoped for. Disappointing, no doubt. But don’t lose all hope.
  3. You could get the “with a competitive pool of 543,978 applicants for Early Decision I regret to inform you that Dreamschool University is unable to offer you admission” notification. Big bummer. Game’s over for this college. Not gonna happen for next year.

If you find yourself in possession of the “denied” notification, you really need to move on. There is nothing you can do to secure an offer of admission at that college for the upcoming fall. If they thought there was any possibility that they would have been able to extend an offer during the Regular Decision review then you would have been deferred, not denied.

Plan B Exploration

The best thing you can do at this point is to use the Winter Break to try to research and become excited about a Plan B. Keep in mind that Plan B could be to attend your local community college for a year in an attempt to transfer to Dreamschool University if you really can’t imagine attending college anywhere else. You can call the admissions office at Dreamschool and ask to speak with a transfer counselor about the best route for transfer admission. If you don’t feel confident about the likelihood of a transfer after the conversation then you need to forget Dreamschool and find another path. Most kids who were denied Early Decision at what they thought was their dream school end up having very fulfilling and successful careers at other colleges.

Making Deferred Happen

If you find yourself in possession of the “deferred” notification, there are a few steps you can take. First and foremost, apply to some other colleges if you haven’t already done so. The reality is that you aren’t a top candidate for Dreamschool. You’re probably borderline and it can go either way. Knowing that, you need to prepare for the possibility that you’re never going to receive the “Congratulations” notification. You might. Don’t give up hope, but like a Boy Scout, be prepared. You can also call the admissions office and ask if there’s anything in particular you could do to improve your chances of being offered during Regular Decision review.

RELATED: Can You Change Your College Decision After May 1?

Is there a particular grade they’re watching (like maybe how you’re going to do this semester in AP Calculus)? Would higher ACT/SAT scores help at all? If so, could you register to take the next available test? Would attending an Open House or sitting for an interview help? You might get helpful advice, or you might get, “there’s really nothing you can do, it’s just a waiting game”. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask. In the meantime, make sure your semester grades are sent (and hopefully you’re having a stellar senior year academically).

Never Do This!

What doesn’t help? You or your parent calling to complain about the decision. Admissions officers often make notes in your file after fielding phone calls. It never bodes well during Regular Decision review to come across “talked to VERY ANGRY applicant’s Mom who complained about Early Decision deferral” in the file. It’s great to ask questions to be more informed. It doesn’t help to vent your frustration or suggest the Admissions Committee doesn’t know how to do their job. Remember that your fate is still in their hands if your application has been deferred and not denied.

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