Many high school seniors will hear Early Decision results very soon. Congrats if you get good news! But if not, don't despair. Keep working on your applications for the other schools on your list, and stay motivated to finish off a strong first semester (which colleges will absolutely be looking at).
Early applicants hear one of three decisions: Accept, Deny, or Defer. The first two are easy to understand, but what about Defer? Defer means an applicant will be considered as part of the Regular Decision pool. It may be that the college wants to see your full semester grades from senior year, or that they just aren't ready to decide until they see how you stack up with other applicants, or that they were overwhelmed with early applications and need more time. Each year, students who are deferred end up being accepted during regular decision.
It's interesting to note that highly-selective colleges have very different strategies for the % of ED apps deferred to regular decision. Some defer only a small percentage, suggesting those students have a legitimate shot in the RD pool but maybe need to demonstrate more with senior year grades. Others defer the majority of early applicants, which may be a result of too many applications for the admissions office to handle in the tight time frame, or just a polite way of saying no.
For example, Harvard, Yale, MIT and Brown historically defer more than 50% of early applicants. At Georgetown, which offers Early Action not Early Decision, all applicants who are not accepted early are deferred to the Regular Decision pool. On the other end of the spectrum, Northwestern, Middlebury, Notre Dame and Duke each defer fewer than 25% of applicants.
Deferral, as cleverly framed by LaToya Franklyn:
"I really like you. You're smart, funny, beautiful, and just all round amazing. But I'm just not ready to commit to you. I think there may be someone else out there that I like more than you. I don't know for sure but I'm going to wait and see. So check back with me in a couple of months and I'll let you know if I've found someone I'm more into. But who knows, maybe I won't. Maybe you will be the one. But most likely not because I'll be dating A LOT of people between now and then. What should you do in the meantime? Well you can just wait and wish and hope I will eventually like you enough to commit. Or you can spend that time finding someone else who will love you for exactly who you are, as you are right now. Either way I'll be fine so do whatever you think is best for you. Ok ttyl"