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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 11/30/2010

Early college admissions applicants: Have a Plan B

By Valerie Strauss

The following was written by Terry Cowdrey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

By Terry Cowdrey
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 and that college admissions karma will question their real commitment, or that the early decision school should be their only choice.

The reality is that early decision good news or bad news will come, regardless of whether the student has a Plan B. But the bad news is a lot more difficult to deal with when there is no alternate plan.

And there’s even good news about the bad news. I often find that some of the happiest, most successful 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.

Many students 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, but that 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 hoping for admission to First-Choice College. That makes it hard for some students to look beyond that and make alternate plans.

Other students who set their hearts on one college receive a letter of rejection in mid-December. For these students, there will be no reconsideration of the application, either early decision or regular decision.

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 submit additional applications as quickly as possible. Now is the time to put your best self forward, and to be sure that applications are completed thoughtfully, thoroughly, and on time.

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.

Here are some things you should do:

* Have applications ready to be submitted to other colleges that you have identified as good matches.
* Talk with your guidance counselor and teachers so that the documents that 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.

If you get good news in mid-December, enjoy it! Wear your college sweatshirt with a smile. But also remember how attractive gratitude is. Thank your counselor, your teachers and your parents for their support through the process.

Regardless of what happens over the holidays, commit yourself to doing your best work for the remainder of your senior year. Getting admitted to college is an accomplishment to be proud of, regardless of whether your choice is first or 10th. Now it is your responsibility to prepare yourself for the opportunities and challenges that college will bring.


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 30, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  college admissions, college applicants, college applications, early action, early action vs. early decision, early decision  
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As a college counselor, I think you have provided some excellent advice for students who are waiting to hear early decision from the school of their dreams. I insist that all of my students who apply early decision have applications and essays ready to submit. In addition to having their high schools send out transcripts and recommendations, they also need to contact the ACT and College Board to request test scores be forwarded to each school. And remember, there is more than one school that can be a good fit. Some students are even relieved because it gives them more time to make sure they are making the right decision.

Susie Watts
Denver, Colorado

Posted by: collegedirection | November 30, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Every student, not just college bound, but every student should have a plan AND a Plan B.

The problem with asking teachers depends on their background and education. Most can only speak to their specific case, it is a rarety they can speak at all about anything outside the college agenda.

The shameful part of this whole issue stems from only those college bound being considered. The other 60-70% of students are largely ignored.

Posted by: jbeeler | December 1, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

This is an interesting article. These next few weeks certainly are critical for college applications! On the essay side of things, I've found the site, really helpful in assisting my daughter with building her essay.

Posted by: georgeryan51 | December 6, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

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