by Brenda Ward – Galin Education Director of College Counseling
This is the week that most early decisions come back, so we understand seniors feeling a little anxious! We’re all hoping they get the “Congratulations” text, but it’s also possible to get one of the less welcome messages: the “You’ve been deferred” text or the more difficult, “Sorry” (along with a paragraph about a record number of applicants).
As a former high school counselor and a parent of two, I’ve witnessed and experienced the stress. Here’s what I recommend for dealing with the text we hoped the senior wouldn’t get.
A deferral is not a denial. The college is acknowledging the strength of the application but has its own priorities when putting together its new freshman class.
In other words, it wants more information before making its decision. This may mean more information about the student (most importantly first semester grades), but it may also mean that the college wants to wait until regular decision to find out more about its total applicant pool.
Once the student has registered the deferral emotionally, it’s time to make a plan. Although the college is waiting for the very important Mid-Year report with first semester grades, the student can send an email to the admission office thanking the college for its continued consideration along with an enthusiastic expression of interest in the college. Some colleges may invite the student to submit updated information such as new test scores, recommendations, and new accomplishments. However, other colleges will request that the student refrain from sending all but the Mid-Year Report. Regardless, the most important thing a student can do is to finish the semester strong.
Then it’s time to look over regular deadline applications and add any last-minute polishes before submitting them. It’s also time to get enthused about all of the other great colleges on the list.
This is the hardest text to read, so it may take a couple of days to regroup. It seems so unfair! After all, these are outstanding students who have sacrificed sleep and fun for strong gpa’s and test scores, all while managing calendars as busy as most CEO’s! But the decision is not personal—the college is building its list to fulfill its own needs. If the student has built a thoughtful college list that includes several reach schools, a denial is not unexpected. Without a denial, the student may even ask if he or she had reached enough!
I remind students how hard it was for them to distinguish between colleges when writing the “why” essays. That’s because there are many “fitting” colleges that can provide the student with an empowering launch into adulthood and career. Some colleges, like Stanford and Vanderbilt, rarely issue deferrals and make immediate yes/no decisions. When chances for admission are unlikely in the regular pool, a denial can be more respectful than a deferral.
Ultimately, it’s the college experience and not the brand that will shape the student’s future. This is what Frank Bruni emphasizes in his bestselling book Where You Go Is Not Who’ll Be. It might be a good time to revisit his optimistic and reaffirming message.