🍎 School 19th January 2023

University Application: What To Do When Universities Make Their Decisions

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

The various essays and personal statements have been written.

The relevant documents, references and letters of recommendation have been sent.

For your students who have submitted university applications, all they can really do now is wait.

As you read this, universities in numerous countries are in the midst of making final decisions about which students have earned a place on their chosen course, and which ones haven’t.

It’s a nerve-wracking time, and your students will undoubtedly be feeling as though the rest of their life hangs in the balance (though it’s important to impress on them that nothing could be  further from the truth!).

From the point at which students receive a decision from their chosen universities, counselling and guidance teams around the world will have to help students do one of the following two things: 

  1. Take those exciting next steps as they prepare to take up a place at the university of their choice.
  2. Analyse and assess other university options if they didn’t receive the decision they might have been hoping for.

Some of you may have students who are waiting to hear back from universities in multiple regions and multiple countries. So here’s a quick beginner’s guide to when different universities make their decisions, when your students can expect to hear back, and what to do next.

When can my students expect to hear back?

If your students applied to university either before or in January, then they should receive decisions and offers through to June. Here are some of the most notable deadlines in countries that are popular with BridgeU applicants.

The United Kingdom

If students applied to study in the UK through the UCAS system by the 15th January deadline, then universities will send decisions until May.  Students must reply to any offers they receive by 2nd May. UK university offers are either conditional or unconditional (see below for more info)

The United States

For students who applied through Regular Decision in January, there’s no single deadline by which they can expect to have heard back. Final decision deadlines have yet to be finalised for some universities (and so expect some to be subject to change) but most universities will notify applicants across March and April.

Students can generally expect to receive either an outright acceptance or an outright rejection. However, in some cases, US universities may choose to put students on a waitlist or defer their application. Students may also find that the university chooses to defer their admission.

Fact Check: Waitlisting and Deferring Explained

If your students have been waitlisted, it usually means that they meet the entry requirements for that university, but the university has already accepted the maximum number of applicants it has room for. Students who are put on a waitlist cannot be certain of being offered a place, so it’s wise to encourage them to think of backup options.

Meanwhile, a deferral can mean one of two things.

  • You applied through Early Decision/Early Action but the university has deferred you to the Regular Decision intake of candidates.
  • Your students are in the Regular Decision pool, but the university will want more information before they make their decision (e.g. test scores, or possibly final grades for your senior year/grade 12)


Dates will vary depending on which province your students apply to, but they can expect to hear back about their applications by the beginning of June. Note that some provinces such as Ontario have their own internal application systems, and therefore their own decision deadlines.

The Netherlands

If your students applied to study in the Netherlands under what is known as ‘Numerus Fixus’ (courses with a fixed intake of applicants) then they may have already received decisions. For other students, universities in the Netherlands can expect to hear back after the final May application deadline. It’s common for applicants to the Netherlands to continue to receive offers through to the summer.


German universities continue accepting applications until July. This means that your applicants can expect to receive decisions from August onwards.


If you had students who applied to Singapore, then many universities in this country are still accepting applications until March/April, meaning that they can expect to hear back about decisions in May/June.

What are the different outcomes my students could expect?

Unconditional offers

If your students have received an offer of acceptance, or unconditional offer from a university, then congratulations are in order!  An unconditional offer means that a student can begin to think about their next steps – whether that’s organising their accommodation, confirming their financial aid or, if they’re studying abroad, getting their student visa sorted.

Conditional offers

A conditional offer means that students have been offered a place, subject to their achieving certain grades (sometimes in particular subjects).

Example: The UK university system is arguably the most notable for its conditional offers. A student receiving a conditional offer could expect it to say something like:

A levels grade AAB with A in chemistry and at least two other sciences or mathematics

36 points from your International Baccalaureate Diploma, to include six points in Higher Level English.

Conditional offers are still great news, but it means that your students may  feel pressure to achieve the necessary grades and exam results to ensure that they can take up their place. Students with conditional offers will need continuous support through the remainder of their time at school.

For students working towards their A-Level or IB qualifications, the publication of exam results means you and other teaching staff in your school will need to be on standby to help them make some important decisions.

Unsuccessful applications

This won’t be easy for your students, especially if some of them have had their heart set on a particular institution. Even one rejection letter can feel like a tremendous blow after months of researching universities and writing essays/personal statements.

But it’s important not to let your students get demoralised. For those who may not have received a decision they were hoping for, reassessing and regrouping is an important exercise, especially if students think they may want to apply again in the future. 

Let’s quickly review some of the most likely outcomes for your students as decisions start to come in over the next few months, and look at some helpful next steps.

Acceptance letters: what are my students’ next steps?

Reassess university fit

As we’ve covered in previous blog posts, applying to university involves a bit of strategy. This means that some students will have based their applications on factors like chance of acceptance and predicted grades, as well as their personal ambition to study at a certain university.

But wanting something and getting it are two different things. So when a student is actually holding an acceptance letter in their hands, they’ll be reassessing their options with new information at their disposal. There are a couple of possible outcomes you should be ready for.

A student may have received acceptances from all of their chosen universities

This is fantastic, but now they need to revisit that shortlist and consider some of the other factors that may affect their decision. These could include: financial aid/bursaries/scholarships, cost of living, course content/structure, location and campus fit.

A student may have missed out on their first choice (and possibly their second choice)

This means that some reflection is required. Do they still want to attend one of the other universities on their shortlist? Again, factors like financial aid, location and course/subject content may come into play. It’s possible that affordability or university country were governing factors in a student’s decision making. If their most affordable or practical option is off the table, they’ll need help and advice over what to do next.

Get to know the campus

We always advise students to attend open days and campus visits before they apply to a university. But it’s not too late to do so, especially if students are fortunate to have received multiple acceptances.

Start looking for accommodation

Whether your students are going to be living in a dorm, a shared house or a hall of residence, the weeks after receiving an acceptance are a good time to start looking at possible accommodation. Again, factors like affordability, location and the kind of social life your students can expect on campus are all important things to consider.

Review student finance options

Student finance will vary wildly depending on which university system your students are applying to, and we won’t go into them all here. But suffice to say that some countries will still be accepting financial aid and scholarship applications from students, so now is the time for your students to get started.

Student visa applications

For students looking to study internationally, an offer of acceptance should be their cue to start applying for a student visa. This is an essential piece of paperwork, so your successful applicants need to be on top of all relevant dates and deadlines in order to be able to start their undergraduate course on time!

Rejection letters: how to help your students regroup & reassess 

We’ve already covered some useful tips for students who may have got some offers, but may have also received some rejections. But some of your applicants may find themselves in the unenviable position of not having any offers, or needing to apply again.

And it’s important to stress this last part.

They can apply again. A rejection letter isn’t the end of the story.

But encouraging your students to objectively assess why they didn’t get the offers they were hoping for isn’t always easy. Confusion, disappointment and even anger are all understandable reactions to this type of news. When the dust has settled, here are a few useful questions to help the unsuccessful applicants in your school to pick themselves up and try again.

Were you realistic about your chance of acceptance?

This can be a difficult admission to make. It’s entirely possible that some students set their sights too high. It may be that a fresh university application will mean re-evaluating which university/course is a good academic fit. Applying to the same universities again could elicit a similar response next time.

Were your application essays and written statements the best they could have been?

Personal Statements. Common App essays. Letters of intent. These components all serve to convince a university that students have a good grasp of who they are and what they want from their time at university. It’s possible that more work needs to go into the planning and writing of these documents if students apply again.

Did you have enough supporting material in your application to help it stand out?

We’ve stressed the importance of extracurriculars and being able to demonstrate interests and competencies outside of the classroom in some of our other blog posts. It may be that a new application will require your a student being able to better demonstrate they are more than a set of grades and test scores. 

Final tips for counsellors

As we’ve already discussed, university decision season is a nerve-wracking time for students. As you help them with their next steps, it’s worth thinking about the following:

Keep lines of communication open  

It’s not just students who will need to know that your door is always open to them as they start to make some life changing decisions: other stakeholders in your guidance strategy will need to be kept informed too. For example, parents will be anxious to be kept updated on their child’s progress, especially if their application outcomes have turned out differently from what they expected.

Keep the pressure on

Remember: students who have the offers they want will still have to keep their shoulders to the wheel, especially if these offers are contingent on certain grades and results. Even unconditional offers will require students to keep their GPA, test scores and exam results to a sufficiently high standard.

Likewise, any students feeling demoralised by a rejection will need both firmness and kindness if they are planning to re-apply elsewhere. Some students may feel tempted to give up – you need to show them that all is not lost!

Don’t forget to evaluate your own strategy too!

Now’s the time of year where you and other counselors and teachers in your school can get a good overview of students’ application outcomes. Some data analysis is probably in order. How are students getting on compare to previous cohorts? Have a high proportion of students applied to universities out of their reach? Are there any demographic or application trends that could help you gauge the success of your guidance strategy as a whole?

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