The early-decision period can be stressful for students.
I’m a college-admissions expert; students panic when they don’t get accepted during early decision.Students should know that colleges are picky in the first round and focus on institutional needs.You can still get into your dream school if you strategize and look at other options.
As a college-admissions expert, I find my phone buzzing every year when the early-decision and early-action announcements come out. Teens and their parents ping me, thrilled to share how the students got accepted to their dream schools.
A few hours later, the tone shifts. I begin to hear from teens who got deferred or were rejected in the early round. Their parents lament, “But she was third in her class of 400. Her essays were stellar.”
Families then wonder if getting admitted to a great college is still possible.
The answer is yes — especially if you use a few strategies. But first, know that getting deferred or rejected does not mean you failed to impress. Other factors are involved in this early phase, and even some of the strongest candidates can get deferred through no fault of their own.
Here’s what you need to know if you or your kid didn’t get accepted during early decision.
For many schools, institutional needs come first
Many colleges admit a higher percentage of applicants during early decision than in the regular decision round. Let’s say a favorite college has a 10% acceptance rate during early decision but only a 5% acceptance rate during the regular decision period. At first glance, the 10% rate seems better — twice as good, right? But the numbers don’t tell the full story.
Different colleges have different priorities, especially during the early-decision rounds. They need to get the right athletes for the required team positions admitted and committed. They need to fill missing orchestra slots. If six violinists graduate this year, admissions officers will look extra closely for violinists for next year’s class. Say the university just spent $4 million on a new biology laboratory. It’ll look for future biologists to step in and support the professors in that lab.
Early-decision rounds often focus first on addressing institutional priorities such as sports or music. After key priorities are met, admissions officers begin combing through the rest of the applications.
Colleges are also protecting yield
For many colleges, it’s all about yield. This is the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll. When accepted, those students must then decide whether they’ll matriculate to that school. For most colleges, the more admitted students who attend, the better.
Being accepted during the early-decision phase means those students must commit to that college. So for colleges that care about protecting their student yield, admitting a large number of students in the early-decision round improves that.
But some schools don’t emphasize yield at all. These colleges — think Harvard or Princeton or Yale — are usually highly selective. They trust that a sufficient number of the students they admit will want to attend.
For these schools, each early-decision applicant they admit is risky. If they admit someone early, they may lose the ability to later admit someone whom they like better. The fear of missing out on a better applicant raises the stakes and can put students who apply early at a disadvantage.
The thought is, “This person is fantastic. She probably deserves a spot, but she doesn’t fill an institutional need, so just to be sure, let’s defer her so we can see what the rest of the applicant pool is like.”
You can still get into the college if you are deferred
If you were deferred, you should follow the instructions you received from the college. If it asks for a recommendation letter, updated grades, or other missing details, provide them. Each college is unique, and you need to follow its instructions carefully.
Next, spend time on the college website to identify what the college prioritizes. You can also research this through the on-campus newspaper, website, or social media. Try to speak on those priorities in the supplemental information the school requests.
If you were rejected, remember your other options
When you get rejected, it’s easy to get discouraged. But it’s important to stay positive while exploring your options. A rejection doesn’t define you, and it doesn’t represent your value to a college campus. You never know what institutional priorities a college has when reviewing your application.
Spend this time tightening up your admissions essay, especially if you made a common mistake, such as sharing achievements rather than impressing with your thoughtfulness. Find schools that prioritize what you prioritize.
Explore your options and embrace what you find. If you were rejected in the early rounds, look for something better.
Your college dreams are not over; it’s just a matter of finding the right fit and exercising smart strategies.