THE BLOG
12/08/2012 01:33 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2013

Early Decisions From Colleges: What to Do When They Say Maybe

The word among college admissions offices and high school counselors is that more early applications to college have been submitted than ever before. Many students applied to these early programs in the hope they would have an early answer, but because there are so many applicants, the answer they receive in the next few weeks might be "maybe." Some colleges with early application programs will defer a final decision on a student, asking for the latest grades in their current classes, additional essays, or more information about the student's interest in the college.

It's easy to understand how students will be disappointed if a college says "we'll see" rather than "yes" -- but it's important not to dwell on that disappointment. Students should view a deferral as an opportunity to tell the college more about themselves and their college plans; in many cases, students who provide the appropriate amount of additional material will be viewed as more interested in attending the college, a factor that can make a difference when a college makes a final decision.

So what does the appropriate amount of new information look like? Follow these steps:

Read the admissions decision carefully. Once you know you've been deferred, go back and read the letter a second time; it may include instructions on how to submit additional material. Many colleges will ask you to email them or return an enclosed postcard to indicate you're still interested in the college; make sure to do that right away. Other colleges will specifically ask for specific information, like your first semester or trimester grades; if that's the case, tell your high school immediately, so they can send the grades and other materials the minute they're available.

Bring the college up to date. Unless the letter tells you not to send anything else (and a few colleges say that), the time to contact the college is now. Send them a short note or email that:

• Expresses your disappointment in not being admitted
• Outlines the achievements, events, and activities you've been involved in since you've applied
• Communicates your strong interest in attending the college

It's been about two months since you submitted your application, and you've been doing more than just checking your email for college notices. Writing the college shows them you are still actively engaged in learning and living; it also shows them you still feel their college is a good match for you, even after having eight more weeks to think about it. This may seem pretty basic, but very few students do this -- and that's all the more reason for you to get busy.

Look ahead. Once you've sent this information, you'll want to plan on sending a second update in February, once your next grades are available; if you have another teacher who can write a strong letter of recommendation, this is a good time to send that as well (don't ask right now -- the holidays are coming!) One last note around March 10th should very briefly restate your interest in the school -- after that, it's up to them.

Review your college list. If you were counting on being admitted to your Early college, now is the time to double-check your college list, and make sure you're applying to at least two or three other colleges where your grades and test scores are at or higher than the college's averages. It's hard to get a deferral from a college now, but it will be much harder to get accepted into any college later; keep your options open by seeing the good in what other colleges have to offer.