Waiting on college admissions decisions can be distressing at best. You buckled down and got all of your applications in by the deadlines, and now it seems like it's taking forever for those decision letters to arrive. What's the deal?
When did you apply?
Most colleges release their decisions based on when you applied for admission. If some of your friends have already received decision letters, but you haven't, it may be because they applied under a different admissions program than you.
Early Decision. Early decision is the early admissions program in which applying early will get you an early answer about college acceptance. The early decision program is binding, meaning that if you are accepted to a college under early decision, then you must attend that school. For this admissions program, applications are normally due by November 1st of your senior year, and selections are usually made by mid-December.
Early Action. Early action is similar to early decision in that applying early will get you an early answer. However, early action programs are not binding, meaning that you do not have to attend the college if accepted. For early action programs, applications are usually due by November 1st of your senior year, and decisions are typically sent by mid-December. However, you usually do not have to make your final decision until May 1st of your senior year.
Regular Decision. For regular admission, application deadlines are usually in January or February of your senior year. Decision letters are generally sent out at the end of March or early April.
Rolling Admission. With the rolling admission program, there are no application deadlines. As soon as applications arrive at a college, the admissions office starts reviewing them and making decisions. If you apply to schools that utilize rolling admission, then you should hear back from them within four to six weeks.
Reasons for a Decision Delay
There are instances in which a possible delay could occur in the college admissions acceptance or rejection letter. You may be informed that your application has been "deferred" or "waitlisted." While neither is an outright rejection, they both mean that you will have to wait longer to see if you will be admitted.
Deferred. A deferment means that the college is not willing to assure you an early spot in the incoming freshman class but has not denied your application for admittance either. Your application will be reconsidered during regular admissions. In some cases, the college may be looking for more information about you, such as grades from your senior year or new test scores, before they make a decision. In other cases, depending on the institution, a deferment is not such a good sign. The percentage of students that are deferred and end up getting in is not very high. You can try to get in contact with the admissions office to market yourself better, such as letting them know about new awards or recognitions you have received during your senior year, etc. Just be sure not to begin a flood of phone calls to the admissions office begging for admittance. It's also a good idea to have alternate plans with another school in case you do not get admitted.
Waitlisted. If you are waitlisted, the college has finished reviewing your file and made a decision to put you on a waiting list for admission. The college has sent out their acceptance letters and is waiting to see how many students commit to their school. If fewer students commit to enrolling than originally expected, the college will begin to fill the openings with students from the waiting list. Unlike a deferment, new information does not usually change a waitlisted decision, but it never hurts to send in your final senior-year grades and/or senior-year awards/recognitions. Your chances of being admitted after being waitlisted will vary depending on the school. Go ahead and make alternate plans with another school in case you do not get admitted.
While waiting on those decision letters (especially the one from your dream school) can be agonizing, please realize that if you do not get into your first choice school, it's not the end of the world. You will have just as many great college experiences at your second, third, or even fourth choice. Best of luck in receiving nothing but acceptance letters!