college-acceptanceCooler weather, holiday gifts and early college decisions generally arrive in December. If you receive such a message, how and when should you respond?

Seniors who receive an offer in response to their early decision application must promptly respond accepting a place in the freshman class. Early decision is binding; students are required to accept the offer and to withdraw any other college applications that may be pending. The only way a student can revoke an acceptance from an early decision offer is if the school was unable to provide a financial aid package that made the institution affordable to her family. If this situation applies to you, you need to contact the college’s office of financial aid immediately to discuss any special family needs.

In contrast, early action acceptances are not binding. Students who receive such an offer can take a deep breath of relief, but they are not required to respond to the offer until they have made their final choice in the spring. Be sure to make note of the date the response is due; don’t lose your place in the class by failing to respond in a timely manner.

Some students will receive an offer from a college with rolling admissions. Generally, students do not have to commit to these colleges until the common reply date of May 1st, but carefully check each college’s own deadlines. If the college wants to know sooner, write and tell them of your interest, but explain that your final decision is still based on other outstanding offers. Sometimes, housing is offered on a space available basis, so you might need to hold a place in the residence hall.

Early applications may also result in less favorable decisions. Students may be denied a spot or may have their applications reevaluated with those of the regular decision pool. A denial is final—it’s ok to feel sad for a day or so, but then it’s time to move on to your other colleges and perhaps look again at your final college list to be sure that you’ve applied to an appropriate range of colleges. The admissions process is filled with subjectivity; don’t take denials personally. Often, they are a blessing in disguise in finding the college that is the right match.

Deferrals, however, should be seen as an opportunity to make yourself a stronger applicant in the regular pool. Contact your admissions officer and ask what additional information you can provide that might yield a favorable decision, especially for those schools you really want to attend. Send mid-year grades, an extra recommendation if suggested, as well as any new information that might change the tipping point to show that you continue to make academic strides and you are now an even stronger candidate. Taking those extra steps lets the admissions office know that you remain highly interested in their school and are actively improving your profile to be an even more desirable candidate.