Waves of College Decisions: How To Ride Them Out

It’s acceptance time. Outside of rolling admissions, college decisions are beginning to come in waves and will continue until the end of March/early April. There is a good chance that in the weeks and months to come, you will receive a mix of news - acceptance, deferral, waitlist or rejection. Your expectations and your support system can help you navigate this part so that you are positioned to make decisions that continue to reflect your goals and aspirations. Hopefully, your college process has included learning about the nature of college admissions, and creating a balanced college list so that you can approach decision season with manageable expectations and goals.

Unfortunately, waiting for college admissions news can be stressful. My advice: Stay in your lane. This is the time when it’s important to continue to make decisions based on what is best for you. Commit yourself and focus on your vision of what you want in a college experience. Everyone else’s news should be nothing more than white noise.

What to do if you receive a deferral or rejection

Let’s tackle the rejection first. I’m not going to sugar-coat this – it’s going to sting. A lot of decisions are about the numbers and the specific enrollment mission of that college. Simply stated, there are many more applicants than spots. Even though this may feel personal try to remember there is a broader context in play. Take a moment to catch your breath. Stay focused, shake it off like “water off a duck’s back” and this will soon become a distant memory.

What can you do and how to respond if you receive a deferral

Schools are typically very specific on what you need to do if you have been deferred or moved into the Regular Decision pile. Pay attention to what they want. If they want you to opt-in, do it and do it quickly. You have nothing to lose by doing that, and you continue to keep your options open. If they want more information from you, don’t wait. Submit what they need to review your application. Some schools offer the opportunity to switch from EA to EDII, which may be an option worth considering after a review of your overall list and notifications. Some schools don’t want anything. Try to sit tight. It may be hard, but sending loads of new information, letters or cookies won’t convince them that your application should rise to the top. Sometimes a short well-crafted letter or email of continued interest may make sense depending on the school.

What to do if you’ve been waitlisted

Again, listen to what schools require, and respond quickly. With the ability for students to apply to multiple schools, it has become less clear to colleges which students will actually enroll. In response to this shift, many schools try to manage enrollment and acceptances via the waitlist or deferral. Opt-in if given that choice. You have nothing to lose. While you’re waiting, try to find out the statistics of students who get off the waitlist. Recognize that there is a considerable range between how schools address waitlists which may vary year to year.

Acceptance – what to do if you have multiple acceptances

Multiple acceptances are an excellent “problem.” While it may feel a little daunting to think about how to choose between colleges, making a decision will be based on weighing priorities, making choices, and analyzing tradeoffs. Keep in mind, however, there will be no perfect school. If a school feels perfect to you, it is probably a good fit. Once you’ve received all of the notifications, you will be able to review each school within an overall context, which will be different than an original college list. For some students, the best-fit school will rise out of the pile. Other students may need to sift through nuances. This is the time to pull in your counselor, parent or trusted adult to help you walk through your priorities to determine your best fit school based on actual information, not speculation.

A considerable part of the college search is learning to make decisions small and large along the way. This involves building a list, deciding when to apply, and which application decision pool (RD, EA, ED) makes the most sense for you. These tasks help to build decision-making skills so that you can respond to college decisions consistent with your priorities. The added bonus is you can take these decision-making skills with you wherever you choose to go.

Preparation Day, Rick Clark, Georgia Tech Admissions

Deferred? We Have Some Advice For You. Hannah Mendlowitz, Yale Admissions

I’ve Been Deferred Now What? Jeff Schiffman, Tulane Admissions

Have more questions or looking for more support? Email me at

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