Thursday, December 20, 2012

Deferred - Now What?

Right after the student viewed the admission decision online, I received a text with the news.

The d word.

Not the the black-and-white, upper case D word.

But the grey, lower case d word.

The former involves finality.

The latter involves liminality.

It's that space between.

Between good news and bad news.

Between congratulations and consolations.

Between Instagraming a picture in your new college sweatshirt and having your mom re-attach the price tags and return the clothing item. 

The Catholics have another word for this liminal existence.


It certainly can feel like it anyway, when now the student has to wait another 3 months before they get a final decision.

But oh wait.

Even then the student may not get the black-and-white answer they seek.

There is this other Dante-esque mechanism that highly selective schools have created and utilized more and more in an age of application proliferation.

It's called the Wait List.

That's another blog post.


So back to the defer letter.

It's all part of a new phenomenon where colleges can't make a decision on the applicant because they don't know what's coming in the regular admission cycle.

It's not uncommon then that more and more colleges are either admitting a more liberal number of early applicants to protect yield numbers.

Or colleges are admitting a more conservative number of early applicants to protect their yield numbers.

Check out early admission numbers for schools like Emory or Northwestern - and you'll see the former in action.

Check out the admission numbers for HYP's (Harvard Yale Princeton) and you'll see the latter in effect.

Yes, HYP's admit 18% or so of a much smaller applicant pool in early admissions.  (click here to see 2012 early admission statistics).

But of that18% - you will find that these schools took a liberal number of applicants who have a HOOK - recruited athlete, legacy tie, ethnic demographic, specifically Native American, Hispanic, African American, 1st generation kids.

So take out all of those admitted numbers and what do you have left?

You have Clark W. Griswold's tangled Christmas ball of 250 strands of electro lights!!!


Two things selective/highly selective college admissions want up - application volume and yield.

One thing selective/highly college admissions want down - admit %.

So call defer what it is - it is a way of protecting a key variable like yield in the rankings game.

So what then should a student do if they are deferred?

First off, I tell my students to calibrate their expectations for a favorable result in regular admissions based on the selectivity of the school.

The rule of thumb:  the more selective the schools, the less likely the defer will come out of the cocoon in April shimmering like a bright butterfly.

The Big Three are notorious for deferring the lion's share of applicants.

It's what we like to call a "soft landing" approach for these schools.

They know that the student will be admitted to some schools in regular admissions, and therefore, they won't crash and burn emotionally when they get the disappointing news.

I've heard from countless colleagues with a wealth of experience that many of them have either not had a single student admitted in regular who was deferred by the top Ivies, or maybe one in 20 years.

If you are like Lloyd Christmas, then the whole one-in-a-million odds are still looking somewhat favorable to you.

Now Penn, for example, is an Ivy that publishes their admit numbers from defer. (click here to see profile)

Last year Penn admitted 99 of the 888 students they deferred.

That's about the same % as Penn admitted in regular admission.

But the odds are certainly better.

Now other schools, less selective, will probably admit a higher percentage of deferred students.

For our kids, for example, SMU deferred a number of them in their early action cycle.

They admitted all of them in regular admission last year.

What was critical for those kids is that they really demonstrated a high yield credential.

They stayed on the admission reps radar screen with an occasional e-mail that either highlighted something from the winter trimester, or asked an intelligent question.

For those kids, they took their winter trimester very seriously in the classroom.  They kept pushing even though they wanted to start coasting.

And for some, they had another person write a short recommendation letter that could provide another layer of insight.

One student just asked the admission rep via e-mail if there was something in his application that the rep found weak or in need of improvement before the next application review.

Believe it or not the rep gave this student some excellent feedback.

This student's supplemental "why us?" essay felt "generic and recyclable."

The student then followed-up with a question:  "Well, can I submit another supplemental essay?"

The admission rep said absolutely.


In the end, I try to help my students see the defer letter as another opportunity.

An opportunity to go the extra mile to make your case.

An opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.

An opportunity to showcase some real grit and fortitude.

An opportunity to ferret out on Facebook what kinds of Christmas gift you can send the admission rep for their stocking. (kidding)