If you apply early action and receive a deferral or flat-out no, you’re bound to be disappointed, but you are not doomed.

Not even close. 

“Ultimately, you want to go to a school that wants you, and you want the school,” says Eric Karlan, founder of Ivy Experience. “Not being admitted is a sign that maybe it wasn’t the right fit for you to start with.”

Whether you were deferred or denied admission, you may be wondering what to do next. Here are several points to consider.

1. Know You’re Still College Material

Rejection or deferral can feel personal, but it rarely is. Most schools—especially top-tier ones—have more qualified students applying than they can possibly admit. The result is there will be students who have the right grades and test scores and compelling essays, yet they aren’t admitted or at least not right away. “A school saying ‘no’ does not diminish everything a student has accomplished,” says Karlan. Nothing about you and your abilities changes because one school turned you down. You’re still a promising student with a successful college future ahead of you—just not at this particular school. 

2. Get a Second Opinion 

If you have time between receiving your early action notification and the deadline for the rest of your applications, ask your high school counselor or other adviser to look it over. “These should be trusted people. See if there’s a general consensus that there’s room for improvement,” Karlan says. Sometimes there are easily corrected mistakes. An edit to address a few misspellings or confusing phrases or updating your activities may be all that’s standing in the way of you and your future admittance status.

Applying early decision II can help your odds of getting into a university.

Lindsey Conger

3. Look into Early Decision II

If your second-choice school offers early decision II (ED II) and you are certain you want to attend (ED II is a binding option) it’s worth trying, as admission rates tend to be higher than regular admissions. “Applying early decision II can help your odds of getting into a university. For example, Vanderbilt University admits approximately 20% of all ED and ED II applicants compared to 9% of those who apply regular decision,” says Lindsey Conger, a tutor and essay coach at MoonPrep.

4. Send Updates on Your Achievements

If you were deferred, providing updates to the admissions counselor you were in touch with during the application process is a great way to show your continued interest. “In the middle or end of January, ask if there’s anything you can do to strengthen your application,” suggests Claire Cafaro, the lead college counselor at Clear Directions. “Each school varies on what they are willing to accept from prospective students. Some schools may suggest that you follow up with mid-year grades, extra writing samples, updates to your activities résumé—a new award, honor, club, or position—increased standardized test scores or an additional letter of recommendation that highlights specific personal qualities that make you an ideal match for the particular college.” 

5. Send a Heartfelt Letter

Take the admissions update one step further by writing a letter—provided it feels genuine—explaining why the school is your first choice and why you’d be a valuable addition to the student body. Cafaro encourages students to structure their letter along these lines: “Thank the admissions committee for continuing to review your application, and provide them with any significant updates relating to your academic or extracurricular achievements,” she says. Make a persuasive argument for why this is the school for you and why you’re such a good fit for this school. “Then, if this truly is your top college and you will enroll if admitted—if you are 200% sure—tell them.”

6. Limit Your Follow Up

Whether you’re sending in updates or penning a sincere letter, you always want to be considerate of an admissions officer’s time. This means being clear and concise and not following up too much or too often. “If you’re being intense or overbearing,” Karlan says, “there’s a point of diminishing returns. If you’re unsure about what to do, you can always consult your high school counselor.”

Ultimately, a rejection or deferral is a growth opportunity. “It can add an extra layer of perspective and life experience,” says Karlan. “And a student might just develop a new level of grit, determination, and persistence they didn’t have in high school.” No matter where you enroll in college, that added layer of character and maturity will serve you well.

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