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Increased Deferrals: The New Normal?

Updated: Jun 24

Ever since COVID pushed admissions testing off the list of required admissions criteria for the majority of colleges, they responded by moving to a more holisitic method of evaluation. Character-driven applicant traits, as presented in the applicant's letters of recommendation, activities list and essays have taken on increased value in determining the applicant admission "score." And because test scores often aren't required, students who may have previously shied away from applying are now more brazen in their hopes for acceptance, skyrocketing the number of applications colleges are receiving.

 


To consider this from an admissions viewpoint, officers must read more involved applications for more applicants, resulting in overworked admissions staff. While they can't make the year longer, one resolution many admissions offices have employed is to add more application deadlines, therefore breaking up their reading season into more manageable chunks. In turn, more students than ever are being deferred as schools wait to see who they get in the next rounds, leaving students in the dark about their chances of admission and whether they should apply elsewhere.

 

With this trend possibly becoming the new normal, applying early to safety schools is more important than ever and applicants should prepare themselves for the possibility of deferral at their target and reach schools. Having a solid option in their back pocket going into the regular decision window will help alleviate stress during the waiting game.


For most schools, applying Early Decision continues to give applicants an edge in admission due to the commitment they are making, and the benefit this cushion provides to the school's yield, however applying Early Action has never been truly advertised as giving a student an edge. The primary benefit was the early admissions decision, usually in December. With this new trend, that benefit feels watered down. Still, my recommendation will continue to be to apply early if at all possible.


As they are waiting for all candidates to be considered, deferred applicants can help their chances of staying on the radar of the admissions office by submitting updates (1st semester grades, new honors or awards, new experiences) and a letter of continued interest in January and February. These efforts will build confidence in the school's belief that you will accept an offer of admission if extended, a strong consideration for some schools when deciding who to accept. The Tufts University's graphic below outlines what they encourage and discourage applicants to do to demonstrate continued interest.



While more students are being deferred, ultimately their chances of being admitted haven't necessarily decreased, they just have to wait a little longer to find out. They can look at the school's Regular Decision acceptance rate to get an idea of their chances. And continue to focus on and be excited by opportunities offered at the schools to which they are already accepted.

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