Early Decision? Early Indecision!
I would like to humbly recommend that college and university admission offices everywhere make a decision when a student applies to their institutions. Do away with deferrals. Say "yes" or say "no." Apply this policy to candidates who apply under any one of the half dozen or so decision options available to them: early admission, early decision, early decision II, early action, rolling admission, rolling early action, restricted early action, rolling admission, or good-old-fashioned regular decision.
Particularly with early decision, students are required by colleges and universities, essentially, to make a decision as they apply that they will attend that institution if given the opportunity. If the applicants wish to defer making that decision, they do not apply under the early decision option. (In most cases) It's simple. Yes or no.
It is a fairly significant statement if a 17- or 18-year-old puts themselves out there by applying early decision. They are reticent to make a public statement of commitment without knowing if the sentiment is mutual. No one likes to take the risk of being rejected by someone (or someplace) they "love." Adolescents avoid this rejection like the plague. Most of the high school seniors with whom I work opt, instead, for the (in their minds) "safer" early action option to fulfill the current social obligation of knowing where they will go to college by Christmas.
So when they do make public their love for a particular college by applying under an early decision option, it seems only fair that the college respect that risk by replying with a definitive response. Instead, year after year, my colleagues - both independent and school-based counselors - and I try to explain to bewildered and heart-broken students and their families why an institution is asking them to hang on a while longer for an actual decision.
After commiserating with them over their disappointment, the conversation usually goes something like this:
ME: "Your credentials weren't as competitive within the early decision applicant pool as they would have liked."
STUDENT: "So then why didn't they just reject me?"
ME: "Because there are so many wonderful things about you that they still feel there may be a place in their class for you."
STUDENT: "So then why didn't they just admit me?"
ME: "They admit the very best of the best applicants under early decision and because it's so competitive, you may have just fallen a little short."
STUDENT: "So after all of this, they could still say ‘no' if the regular decision application pool is competitive, too?"
ME: "Yes, that's correct. But they could also say ‘yes'"
‘Round and ‘round I go with the student a few more times and the parents twice as often. The conversation usually ends with no less angst on the part of the student and the family despite my efforts to convince this young person that life itself has not yet ended. The student mutters that "it" would be so much easier if he just knew if one way or the other. I can't help but agree. It's supposed to be an early decision. Not an early wait-and-see. If they don't quite measure up, cut the cord and let these poor kids move on to plan B. Otherwise, throw your arms open, be excited they loved your institution enough to take a risk, and start cultivating that engaged student and eventual happy alum.