It’s likely only been a little over month since you submitted your early decision application, eager to seal the deal at what you’re pretty darn sure is your dream school.

It, however, feels as if you’ve been waiting a lifetime for an answer to, Do they like me back?! Depending on the response you get, your college admissions journey may be complete, or you may have some more waiting to do.

Understanding how the early decision process works will help ensure that you’re ready to deal with the next steps both emotionally and logistically. From acceptance to deferral to denial, here’s what you need to know.


Hooray – you did it! You’ve been accepted to your top-choice school. Because early decision is a binding agreement, that means there are no more decisions to make — well, beyond what color combination you’d like your school sweatshirt in. Remember, this is different from an early action application, which allows you apply and receive a response earlier, but still leaves you the flexibility to attend another school.

Next steps: Follow the school’s instructions on how to officially enroll — usually this involves completing an admissions acceptance form online or by mail, accepting your financial aid package and sending in your deposit. While it’s not necessarily a requirement, you should, as a courtesy, also contact any other schools to which you’ve applied to inform them that you won’t be attending. This could potentially open up 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 see if you can rescind your applications right on the schools’ websites. If not, you can send a brief letter or email to the admissions office that says something like, 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.” 


So much for a cut-and-dry result. In the case of a deferral, you’ll receive word that your admissions decision has been put on hold for now and that you will be reconsidered with the regular applicant pool. This is not by any means a rejection.

Next steps: Deferrals may happen because the college needs more information from you. If you receive word that this is the case, gather the requested materials and send them as soon as possible. If no specific explanation is given, start by determining if this is still your top college choice. If so, you’ll want to take action. Experts recommend sending a letter to the admissions office that reiterates your interest 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 accomplishments you have made since you applied. Finally, try to schedule a campus visit, which can serve as another indicator of your intent to choose a college if admitted. Schools, which want to boast as high a yield rate as possible, could take notice.


Look, hearing “no” is hard to accept, especially in response to something you were clearly passionate about. Let yourself feel without judgement, and allow yourself a reasonable mourning period. But do remember that opportunity awaits: You have yet to hear back from all of the other colleges you applied 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 begins as a “backup” choice actually turns out to be an even better fit. Play the waiting game for regular-decision responses, most of which come during 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 sending your official decision to your choice college by May 1st.