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Dec. 15 has come and gone. For high school seniors who chose to apply to a college with a binding Early Decision program (or a few elite Single Choice Early Action programs) -- it was anything but a routine day.

Many students and parents were frantically awaiting the online news bulletin -- life-changing news, they believed. Some are certain that the "we are pleased to inform you " letter not only validates their hard work in high school but also determines their future happiness. Call me a nonbeliever or call me Pollyanna -- but I do believe things happen for a reason and if students did not get accepted to their first-choice school, life is not over. If they created their college lists intelligently, they will still have a variety of other options.

The number of early applications is up dramatically over the last several years. The increase is due in part to the fact that the acceptance rate for students applying early can be as much as double the regular decision acceptance rate. But those numbers are deceiving because the early applicant pool is historically much stronger. There is a higher acceptance rate of students applying early because very often these are exactly the types of students that colleges are seeking to fill their freshman class.

So what did students hear? There were three responses:

Accepted: The lucky ones were accepted and their college search is over. They should congratulate themselves and celebrate but they need to remember to be sensitive to other students at school and not gloat.

Deferred: Interpret this decision to mean that the college likes you, but wants to see your first-semester grades and wants to see how you compare with regular-decision candidates. You will be re-evaluated and receive your decision in March or April. If you were deferred and are still interested in the college, let admissions officials know. Don't be passive about it either. You will likely receive a postcard that asks you if you want to be reconsidered. If this really was your first choice, then get over your hurt and anger as fast as you can and send the admissions office a letter, not email, and tell officials that while you're disappointed that you weren't accepted, you are still eager to attend. Let them know what else you've been up to since you submitted your application. Have you won any awards, scholarships, taken on a new leadership role, etc. Share your recent highlights. Don't complain and don't make excuses.

Denied: Somehow denied sounds softer than "rejected." Review your college list and truly evaluate your "reach," "target" and "safety" schools and consider adding a 'for sure safety' to your list.

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Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.