Over the past few weeks, students across the world have finally heard back from their top-choice schools after applying through Early Action or Early Decision programs. There are three possible outcomes when applying EA or ED: accepted, deferred, and denied. Whatever the outcome of your EA or ED application may have been, there are some next steps you can take to make the most of the college admissions process.
Early Action and Early Decision programs allow students who are especially interested in a particular school and want to receive an admissions decision before Regular Decision applicants, often before the end of the year or in early January. If you’d like to read our full guide to applying to a school through an Early Action or Early Decision program, you can find that here.
It’s often advised that students apply to their most competitive school or dream school through an EA or ED program in order to maximize their chances of acceptance. These admissions cycles tend to have a higher acceptance rate than RD cycles, but that does not always translate to a higher likelihood of acceptance because of factors like athletic recruitment, legacy admissions, and more. And this year, some top schools reported their lowest-ever acceptance rates for their early application programs, such as Brown (14.6%), but other Ivies like Yale (10.9%) and Penn (15.6%) actually reported higher acceptance rates than previous years. The point is that it's hard to predict with any certainty how much applying early can affect your chances over applying through Regular Decision.
So, you’ve done all the hard work of submitting your application, and you’ve been notified that your college admissions decision is available. Once you know what that is, here are the next steps you can take in order to make the most of the college admissions process.
What to Do if You’re Accepted
First of all — congratulations! All your hard work has paid off, and this will hopefully decrease the amount of stress you feel during your senior year (although it’s important not to slack off too much academically since you can still have that acceptance rescinded).
If you’ve applied via Early Decision, you’ll — hopefully — know that you’ve signed a binding contract promising that you’ll attend the school if accepted, so your college search is over. However, if you’re still wavering on your commitment to the school, know that if you withdraw from this agreement that other schools on your list will likely be notified, decreasing your admissions chances elsewhere. It’s not a good look. That’s why we’d recommend not applying via an ED program if you’re not 100% sure that you’d attend, even if it’s an incredibly competitive school.
If you’ve applied Early Action, you still have lots of options on the table and have more time to respond. For many students, it’s still a good idea to send out other applications so that you have more choices to consider later in the year, especially if you’re planning on applying for scholarships in the RD cycle. But ideally, this will help you feel a bit more relaxed while submitting other applications, knowing that you still have an acceptance to a great school.
What to Do if You’re Deferred
This is the trickiest outcome, but congratulations are still in order! You’ve still passed the first round of consideration and are still very much in the running in the Regular Decision cycle. It’s true that, at top schools, acceptance rates after deferral likely hover around 2-10% (there isn’t a significant amount of data to confirm this), but people are definitely still accepted after being deferred in the early admissions cycle — and there are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting better news in the spring.
If you’re still determined to be accepted, your first step is to write a letter of continued interest. H&C counselor and former Dartmouth Admissions Officer Racquel breaks down what should be in this letter and how you should go about sending it to your Admissions Officer in this blog post. It’s important that you keep your grades up and try to improve your extracurricular profile as much as possible in the meantime. Your Mid-Year Report, which includes your first semester grades, will now be sent to this school and will be considered.
After sending this letter of continued interest, the next steps vary widely based on the school, resources of the student/family, and more. It is sometimes possible to meet your Admissions Officer in person, but this should be navigated carefully. Do not annoy or overwhelm your Admissions Officer with information or requests, but ask once if you can potentially meet them for a brief time on campus if you’re able to travel there. Some schools do not allow this kind of contact or communication, so make sure to check the school’s policy and follow it to a T. But sometimes, this effort can make a positive impact. If the school considers demonstrated interest, see if there are other ways you can reaffirm your strong interest in the school however you can.
And if you applied Early Decision, you’ve been released from your commitment to attend the school if accepted. You can and should consider other options, and use this as an opportunity to invest in other schools that may be high on your list. Put extra time into reviewing those applications and making them as strong as they can possibly be.
What to Do if You’re Denied
It’s never a good feeling to read the dreaded words: “We regret to inform you…” However, at top schools, the reality is that the majority of students will receive that message in the Early Action or Early Decision cycle. The upside is that you won’t be in the deferral limbo, so you can move on to consider other options.
While it will likely be hard to hear, see this as a chance to reexamine the schools that may have not been on your list. There isn’t usually a ton of time between EA/ED results and RD application deadlines, but maybe you can add a few schools back to your Common App, meaning that you’ll probably only have to write a few more school-specific supplements, if at all. Especially look at schools with slightly higher acceptance rates than the school that denied you. You can use sites like Niche to compare yourself to the average applicant to many colleges and universities. However, don’t take off equally competitive schools unless you want to. Try to be realistic about your chances, but don’t give up hope. And, like with a deferral, you’ll want to keep your grades up and stay involved in extracurriculars that may help you add to your profile even more.
There are so many factors outside of your control when it comes to college admissions, so remember that, in addition to your hard work, there is usually a lot of luck involved. You’ll never know, so it’s best not to speculate too much for your own sake. And — although it may sound cheesy — you’ll truly end up wherever you’re meant to be when all is said and done.
If you’re looking for help with your college applications after receiving your early admissions decision, don’t hesitate to set up a free consultation today.