What to do After Applying to College Early Decision or Early Action
The run-up to the November 1st early action (EA) and early decision (ED) deadlines at the majority of colleges is, for many students, one of the most stressful times in their young lives. Yet, for all of the unwanted nerves and sleepless nights, there is also a dopamine rush that comes with striving single-mindedly toward an important life goal. Hyper-focusing on a singular event is an intense experience and when the EA and ED deadlines first appear in the rearview mirror, some teens are left with an overwhelming sense of…”Now what?”
While November 1st until the next most common deadline date of January 1st can feel like a dead zone, there are actually many consequential steps that you can take during this timeframe.
Confirm that application materials have been received
This doesn’t mean that on November 2nd you should begin pestering the admissions office with “Did you get my application?” emails. While you are understandably anxious to know that your application has landed safely in the hands of the intended gatekeepers, refrain from giving into childish, “Are we there yet?” style harassment.
Rather, students should check their inboxes daily (including spam folders) for a confirmation email. If this doesn’t arrive within two-to-three weeks, feel free to send the admissions office a short email inquiry asking them to confirm that your application was received.
Some schools solely offer on-campus interviews; others only offer off-campus alumni interviews, and a growing number of institutions do now allow for more flexible policies that include phone or Skype options (most do in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Consult our comprehensive list of interview policies at 360+ schools for information about your prospective colleges. Depending on a given school’s policy, they may want you to wait to be contacted by an admissions officer, or the onus may actually be on the student to contact the school to schedule an interview. Check the admissions website of the school(s) to which you have applied. If this information proves difficult to locate (it shouldn’t), you can always shoot the admissions office an email.
Of course, you don’t want to forget to also prepare for the actual interview, particularly if it is evaluative in nature (some are merely for informational purposes). To help you get ready, revisit our previous blog offering college interview tips.
Continue working at a steady pace on apps and essays
Like a runner in a marathon, it’s of vital importance that you pace yourself over these fall and early winter months. Submitting your ED or EA application is a wonderful achievement and gives you a leg up as you look to tackle the remaining stages of the process. After all, you have already completed a polished essay that can be used for all future applications through the Common or Coalition App and you won’t have to renter demographic data, the name of your mother’s employer, or the weighting system utilized by your high school ever again. However, this doesn’t mean that future applications, should you ultimately need to submit them, will not require a great deal of work.
Many selective schools have lengthy supplemental sections that can catch battle-weary applicants off guard later in the process. You will almost certainly have to tackle a “Why this College?” essay for each school to which you may apply in the regular cycle. In order to do this this well you need to genuinely personalize each essay of this nature and, for those applying to a dozen schools, this will undoubtedly consume countless hours. Knocking some of these out in November and December will help you avoid having a miserable New Year’s Eve filled with scrambling to slop together some semblance of supplemental essays.
Consider additional standardized tests
Both the ACT and SAT are offered in early-to-mid December and you should strongly consider sitting one last time for the exam. On the SAT, students typically enjoy a natural improvement of 40 points the second time that they take the test and the College Board found that just 20 hours of targeted practice through Khan Academy resulted in an average score gain of 115 points. Remember, thanks to the practice of superscoring, you only have to improve one section of either exam to improve your standing as an applicant.
Also keep in mind, that admissions considerations are only one reason to consider sitting for one final exam. Standardized test scores also play a huge role in determining which applicants receive offers of merit aid.
The November 1st to January 1st period is also a good time to take or retake SAT Subject Tests. While there are no remaining institutions that flat-out require the submission of tests (Caltech and MIT just eliminated the mandate), many universities still strongly recommend their submission, particularly for aspiring STEM majors. If you haven’t already completed the recommended examinations, absolutely do so during this span of time.
Review school-specific policies on SAT Subject Tests in our Dataverse.
Keep earning strong grades
Many selective universities now actually require the submission of one’s first quarter senior year grades with early applications. Boston University, Duke University, Tufts University, and Babson College all mandate the submissions of Q1 grades for all who apply early. Even if there is no official requirement of this nature, applicants can still volunteer evidence of a strong senior year start. Institutions such as William & Mary, NYU, and Northeastern will all accept first-quarter scores, if submitted. This is of particular importance to late-bloomers who want to demonstrate an upward trajectory or anyone who had a junior year blemish (or two).
College Transitions’ big-picture advice
If you applied to your number one choice school in November, you will learn your fate sometime between mid-December and mid-January. Even if you are due to hear back on the early side of that window—elite schools like Brown University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago all notify by mid-December—if you are rejected or deferred that gives you only two weeks until the regular deadline clock strikes midnight.
Think of all of the work you will do between November 1st and January 1st as purchasing an insurance policy. No one gets excited about buying insurance but, boy, are you glad to have it when the roof collapses. If you end up opening an acceptance letter from your dream school right before the holidays, the last thing on your mind will be lamenting all of the “wasted” hours preparing other applications—you’ll simply be too overjoyed. If less positive news arrives, you’ll be eternally grateful to your past self (that’s you right now!) for having the foresight to prepare in advance for the challenges and duties that now lie ahead.
A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.