“Making Sense of ED/EA Outcomes”

It is that time of year for all things jolly and bright—a time for breaks from school (and work) and holiday gatherings with family and friends. And it is a time for both nostalgic reflection and eager anticipation as the New Year looms with possibilities.

Among the possibilities for many young people is the word that they have been admitted into colleges of their choice. Indeed, it is also that time of year when the outcome of Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) applications becomes known. While many applicants receive good news that assures them seats at places of their choices, others are left wondering about next steps in the application process. Let’s take a look at the possible outcomes along with recommendations for moving forward in each case.

1) You’re accepted!
This great news—now you can exhale! As you do, however, remember what this means. Whether it be through ED or EA, you are assured a place in the entering class at the school in question—or are you?

While that might be the intent expressed in the letter you received, you would be wise to read the not-so-fine print. It is there you will likely find a reminder that the offer of admission is contingent on your completion of the senior year at the same level of performance that won you admission. The admission office at that school will continue to track your performance through graduation all the while reserving the right to withdraw its offer (and your place in the class) if you fail to live up to your end of the bargain. So…

  • Relax and have fun, but keep going to class and continue to perform at the highest level possible.
  • Resist the temptation to “modify” your academic course load for the balance of the year.
  • Make sure any subsequent changes in program or performance are addressed in updates to your application file. You don’t want admission officers to have to draw their own conclusions about any unexplained irregularities that materialize after you have been admitted.

Honor the commitment. While both ED and EA offers of admission bring peace of mind, the ED offer also requires you to take action by completing the enrollment process. As an admitted ED candidate, you must:

  • Withdraw all other applications including those at schools where you might be under consideration for any type of scholarship. By applying ED, you agreed to forfeit those other possibilities.
  • Submit your enrollment deposit by the designated date in your acceptance letter.

If you have been admitted EA, you are not obligated to enroll or respond formally in any other way. Be glad for the peace of mind. You can now decide whether you want to submit additional applications knowing that you have at least one offer of admission in “your hip pocket.”

Next steps if financial aid is involved: If you have been admitted ED and are an established applicant for financial aid (you submitted the required forms in a timely fashion), you have the right to see—and accept—your financial aid award letter before withdrawing other applications and submitting your enrollment deposit. That doesn’t mean you can engage other colleges in a bidding war with financial aid or scholarships. It simply means you should be able to review and discuss with the financial aid office, if necessary, your financial aid award before enrolling.

That said, don’t expect an extension on your enrollment deadline in order to complete the financial aid forms (if you are starting that process after the offer of admission has been made) or to compare financial aid awards with other schools. Similarly, you might be expected to enroll before learning your status with regard to scholarships for which you have applied at that school.

2) You have been deferred or denied.
Frankly, any decision letter that doesn’t start with “Congratulations!” can’t be delivering good news. Rather, the words are telling you that you can’t have something that was very important to you. While the message is bound to hurt, let’s examine it further.

If you have been denied, the outcome is clear. There will be no further review. It is time to move on.

If you have been deferred, the admission committee is demonstrating its reluctance to commit to you now. It wants to see more information (updated grades, new accomplishments, etc.) from you and to see how your credentials fit in the overall candidate pool before making a final decision. As a result, you might still hold out “hope” for a positive outcome. Generally speaking, however, deferred candidates don’t fare as well later in the admission process. The dynamics of ED at most places are such that if an admission committee thinks it might admit you as a regular candidate, it most often will admit you as an ED candidate.

In the case of either deferral or denial, you are effectively being set free from any commitment. You are a “free agent” able to re-focus on other schools on your short list that presumably represent good fits for you. Things will work out. Some of these places will even resurface as strong suitors encouraging you to think about “converting” your application from “Regular” admission to Round Two of Early Decision at their schools.

Round Two of ED is a viable option, however, be careful not to react emotionally to such opportunities. Make sure you are embracing a healthy, positive, constructive opportunity rather than rebounding from a situation that resulted in great disappointment. Early Decision, even through a Round Two option, still involves a commitment. Make sure it’s the right place for you.

In the final analysis, you need to believe in you! In the mass mayhem of ED and EA, self-worth seems to ride on the coattails of each outcome. Just as you might be flying high with a letter of acceptance, it is also easy to feel like you have somehow failed if you are not admitted to the school of your choice. Don’t succumb to that notion. That school has simply made other choices based on agendas, seen and unseen. In the process, it missed an opportunity to choose you.

You will find wonderful opportunities at other schools if you only allow yourself to see them. Don’t ever stop believing in you, then. As long as you don’t lose sight of who you are and what you hope to accomplish in college and in life, you will be fine.

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