So, you applied early to a college you absolutely love and — barely one month later — you will be presented with their decision.

It’s a nervous-making time since you don’t know whether your admissions journey will end with an acceptance or carry on if you’re either deferred or denied. 

While you wait, it can help to understand how the early decision process works so that you’ll be ready to deal with the next steps, both emotionally and logistically. From acceptance to deferral to denial, here’s what you need to know.

Acceptance

Hooray — you did it! You’ve been accepted to your top-choice school. Because early decision is a binding agreement — unlike early action, which gives you the flexibility to choose to attend a different school — your acceptance letter means there are no more decisions to make, well, beyond what color scheme you’ll use to decorate your dorm room.

Next steps: Follow the school’s instructions on how to officially enroll — typically this involves completing an admissions acceptance form online or by mail, accepting your financial aid package and paying your deposit. While it’s not necessarily a requirement, you should, as a courtesy, contact any other schools to which you’ve applied to inform them that you won’t be attending. This could potentially open a spot for another deserving applicant — and you’d almost certainly want someone to do the same thing for you. The easiest option is to withdraw your applications directly on the schools’ websites. If that’s not an option, you can send a brief letter or email to the admissions office that says something along the lines of: I am writing to inform you that I am accepting an offer of admission from another institution to which I applied early decision. Thank you for considering my application.”

Deferral

If you get deferred by your top-choice school, that means a final decision on your application has not been made and it will receive another review as part of the regular applicant pool. Take heart: While a deferral requires that you wait another several months for a final answer, it is by no means a rejection and you should keep your hopes high.

Next steps: Deferrals may happen because the college needs more information from you. If you receive word to that effect, gather the requested materials and forward them as soon as possible. If no explanation for the deferral is offered, ask yourself if this is still your No. 1 college choice. If so, you’ll want to take action. Experts recommend sending a letter to the admissions office that reiterates your strong interest in and commitment to the school. You can also include supplemental materials that might enhance your application, such as an additional letter of recommendation, updated test scores (if yours have improved) or other notable academic or extracurricular achievements since you submitted your early application. Finally, try to schedule a campus visit, which can serve as another indicator of your intent to enroll if admitted in the regular admissions round. Schools like to boast as high a yield rate as possible, so demonstrating your eagerness to attend could help your chances.

Rejection

Look, hearing “no” is very tough, especially after putting so much thought and effort toward a school you’re extremely excited about. It’s important to allow yourself to feel disappointed, but don’t beat yourself up: You put your best foot forward and for that you should feel proud. And remember that opportunity awaits: The right school for you is among all the other colleges you will apply to via regular admission.

Next steps: It may be hard to believe right now, but students who are not admitted to their top choice often go on to have amazing experiences at another school. In fact, in many cases, what was initially a “backup” choice or safety school turns out to be an even better fit. Wait for all those regular-decision responses, most of which should arrive in March and April, and in the meantime, look at the silver lining: You’ll have more options to consider and time to compare financial aid packages before picking which school is the one for you.