When the “Early” Answer is No…
(Guest blog by Terry Cowdrey, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at St. Lawrence University and The Admission Game)
As someone who has always believed that carrying an umbrella will prevent rain, I am concerned about the number of high school seniors who apply Early Decision to their first choice college and don’t formulate a Plan B. Perhaps they worry that having a contingency plan will somehow jinx their admission to the school of their dreams—that college admissions karma will question their real commitment—that somehow declaring a school as their top choice is not adequate because the Early Decision school should be their only choice. The reality is that Early Decision (ED) good news or bad news will come regardless of whether the student has a Plan B. The bad news is a lot more difficult to deal with, however, when there is no alternate plan.
Many ED candidates who hope for the “big envelope” in December are sorely disappointed. Lots of them get letters that tell them that the college is not yet able to make a decision on their application. Their ED applications have been deferred and they will be considered with the rest of the applicant pool in the spring. The letter encourages students to send updated academic information and assures them that their application will receive full consideration later in the year. Students wonder what more they can do to demonstrate their talents and commitment. Still, there is a glimmer of hope for admission to “First Choice College” making it hard for some students to look beyond and make alternate plans.
Yet other students who set their hearts on one college as ED candidates will receive a letter of rejection in mid-December. There will be no reconsideration of the application in this case—the admissions office is clear in saying that “First Choice College” will not be a college choice for the student whose Early Decision application is rejected. Although the temptation may be to give in to self-pity and to imagine no college in one’s future, the more productive reaction is to put the disappointment aside, try to remember that everything happens for a reason, and get additional applications submitted as quickly as possible. Now is the time to put your best self forward—to be sure that applications are completed thoughtfully, thoroughly, and on time.
Although it may be hard for some high school seniors to believe, some of the most successful, happiest college students are those who were not admitted to their Early Decision colleges and were forced to look more deeply at other schools, ultimately finding places that were better matched to their interests and talents.
So if you are a high school senior who has declared your love for a college through an Early Decision application, and you are waiting to hear whether you have been embraced or rebuffed, get out that proverbial umbrella. If you are not admitted Early Decision, you will need to be ready to move quickly because many Regular Decision deadlines will be only a few weeks away. Make sure you have applications ready to be submitted to other colleges that you have identified as good matches. And make sure you have had conversations with your guidance counselor and teachers so that the documents they need to send in support of your applications are ready to go if needed. Don’t worry about what you will say to your friends and relatives whom you told so proudly about your decision to apply Early—you can always tell them that you have had second thoughts and are relieved to have more time to consider other colleges—the more you say it, the more you will believe it.
And remember—you might get good news in mid-December. If you do, enjoy it—wear your college sweatshirt with a smile. But remember how attractive gratitude is. Thank your counselor, your teachers and your parents for their support through the process. Commit yourself to doing your best work for the remainder of your senior year. Getting admitted to college is an accomplishment of which you should be proud. Now, it is your responsibility to prepare yourself for the opportunities and challenges that college will bring.
Terry Cowdrey is the vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University. Her career in college admissions spans three decades and includes experience at Vanderbilt University, the University of New Hampshire, and Wesleyan University.)