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Don't Give Up: Navigating Deferred or Rejected Early Round Decisions

As a college admissions coach, I am swamped with messages at this time of the year, when Early Decision and Early Action decisions start coming out. Some students are thrilled to report their ED or EA acceptances. Others report getting deferred or rejected. 

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 student didn't get accepted during the Early Action/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.

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 new 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.

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