Every school varies on how they approach the process of re-examining the deferred applications from the early pool. The acceptance rate for this group varies tremendously from college to college and can also vary from year to year within the same school.

The best thing to do is, first, ask your guidance counselor if you’re curious about the chances of acceptance later on to see if he or she has already obtained the statistics you’re seeking. Second, if your guidance counselor doesn’t know, call the college admissions office to find out. Remember, though, that regardless of overall statistics, your application was placed on that deferred list for individual reasons. If you decide to call the admissions office, best to ask about your application specifically as well as past statistics for general information.

If you’re going to ask about general statistics, here are the ones I think would be most useful.

1. How many students applied early?

2. How does this compare with past years?

3. For this year, what percentage were accepted, deffered, rejected?

4. From last year, about what percentage of deferred students were admitted in regular decision?

5. Do you have any predictions about how the [increase/decrease] in [applications/acceptance rates] this year will affect the percentage of students admitted from the deferred pool?

Be prepared that the admissions officer may not have an answer for the last question. It requires speculation that should not necessarily have any bearing on your chances. Additionally, all of these statistics are meant to give you an overall picture of the pool not of your particular, individual chances for acceptance.


On being deferred

December 7, 2006

If you get deferred you may wonder what you can do to improve your chances of getting in when they review your application again later. Sadly there’s no magic answer. The best advice is to do the following:

1. Keep your grades up.

2. Write a letter to the admissions office stating your continued interest with any relevant updates on accomplishments, awards, new information.

Certain things will not help you get in if you’ve been deferred. My best advice is not to do the following:

1. Do not call the admissions office more than one time. You get one call. That’s all. Then you need to leave them alone. More than once can be annoying.

2. Don’t round up the alums. I’ve posted already about how ineffective it is when students call upon every distant friend, acquaintance, relative, former employer who may have attended the college some years in the past in an effort to get additional recommendations. I didn’t advice it then, and it’s not going to help now. Sure many students think, “well, I didn’t ask Mr Jones, Ms Mitchell and the next door neighbor when I first applied… and I got deferred… so what do I have to lose?” Sure, this is one way of looking at it. But there’s also the angle that these solicited letters, conveniently arrivingafter the receipt of the deferral letter stinks of desperation. If Mr Jones wants to write a letter upon hearing of your deferred status, he’s more than welcome to write – he won’t hurt your chances. Just don’t start going through your Outlook addressbook for contacts to write letters and petition the admissions office for acceptance.

3. Don’t send gifts/bribes.

4. Don’t take the opportunity to give updates as an open call to tell the admissions office of every goal you scored during the soccer season, your weekly GPA based on every quiz and graded homework etc. Students have done this. Not only is it not helpful, it’s puzzling that they would think it would be. Yes, you want to keep your name fresh in their heads and set yourself apart, but be mindful of the line between helpful and overwhelming.

5. Don’t yell and scream (at least not over the phone to the admissions office).

By the time they review your application later in the season you don’t want to be remembered as “that” student who sent that crazy package, made the multiple phone calls, sent daily letters or was so angry on the phone that you showed less than your best side.

Early Decision letters

December 2, 2006

 Soon, those of you who applied early will be receiving letters of either the acceptance, rejection or deferral variety. I always thought these letters were clear but every year that I was working in admissions, a number of people seemed confused.

If you are accepted to a school early decision, congratulations, your college search is over and you do not need to spend your holiday break scrambling to send in more applications. You can go ahead and wear the sweatshirt or put the sticker on your car. Enter school the day after you receive this letter with grace and humility. There’s nothing worse than parading around at such a tense time of year.

When I was an admissions officer, we would say that students who were admitted early had to “withdraw applications” from the other schools to which they were applying. I always found this a little funny because I think most students hadn’t actually sent in all their other applications, and instead were waiting with crossed fingers, baited breath and chart topping anxiety for an acceptance. If they did not receive an acceptance from their early school, they’d go back to their common application, make any relevant updates, write out a few more application fee checks and grumble under their breath that they had to deal with this all over again – during the holidays no less.

If you’re waiting to find out about financial aid information (usually it accompanies the letter from the admissions office) and your ability to attend the school hinges on a substantial award, you retain the right to withdraw from the school if the financial aid award does not meet your needs. You can’t be expected to attend a school if you can not pay for it.

If you are deferred it means you have to wait until the spring to hear with the rest of the applicants who apply regular decision. Your application will be reconsidered with the regular decision pool. You may call the admissions office to see a) what weaknesses were in your application and b) if you can do anything to strengthen it in the meantime, but if you do, don’t be disappointed that you don’t get specific information. It’s not that the admissions officer is holding back or trying to be sly and mysterious about the process. It’s most likely because concrete reasons for why a student almost got in don’t exist. If you are deferred it’s almost always because the pool was strong and there were enough students who were more compelling, for whatever reason, that they slid in in front of you. You can’t point a finger at any one reason, any group of applicants because with international pools of top students applying to selective colleges, its just plain hard to get in, early or regular.

Sometimes a concrete reason does exist and it may be related to a drop in grades or low test scores. If you’re told such a thing, you’re lucky in a way because you’ve been given a solution for fixing it. If you don’t get a concrete reason, it means you were close enough to getting in that the college doesn’t want to close off the option of admitting you later on, which leads me to the last type of letter…

If you are rejected, the dance is done. You will not be reconsidered with the regular decision pool. Your application will be be reviewed again for one more chance. It’s the college version of the break up – it’s over and you will have to move on. But if that school remains your top choice and your interest and determination are not diminished, you can always apply to transfer.

Hearing about early decision

November 24, 2006

For what it’s worth, colleges do not have a uniform, standard date of mailing early decision and early action letters. If your friends hear from schools before you do, it doesn’t mean anything. Each college is scrambling to try to get through all the early applications, make and mail decisions as efficiently as possible.

A school that saw an increase in applications this fall and did have a corresponding increase in staffing, that school may take longer. If a school saw a decrease, or just happens to have fast readers that school may mail out sooner.  Chances are you’ll hear something via email first, and a letter will follow.

If you haven’t heard from a school by mid December, call them or check their website for any updates. Otherwise sit tight, your letters will arrive shortly.

This morning, Michele Hernandez’s first tip on maximizing one’s chances of acceptance to college was to apply early decision. Not early action. Specifically early decision. Here are my problems with this first, and simple sounding tip.

a) it’s already halfway through October and early decision deadlines are roughly two weeks away. Do not run out and find an early decision school fearing this is your one shot. It’s not.

b)  she notes that a student is significantly more likely to be accepted to Dartmouth, for example, if that student applies early decision. Without writing the same post as I have earlier, the early decision pool is full of students who are already more likely to gain admission. This skews statistics. Plus, there is no way to test to see whether student A would get in early decision but not regular decision, or even vice versa.  These theories are untestable when examining the impact on one particular student. Might as well not speculate – it only causes unnecessary stress.

c) such advice completely ignores the fact that a student’s favorite school may not be an early decision school – it may be early action. The student doesn’t get to decide whether his or her top choice school is early decision.

d) early decision is binding. It shouldn’t be used as a strategy because if it is not a student’s number one choice, and the student gets in, that student gives up all options to attend another school.

Early decision should not advocated as a strategy for maximizing admissions because, on a larger scale, if everyone does it, the numbers will overwhelm the early decision process, acceptance rates will decline and cause delays in the response time. The whole point behind early decision is that it allows students who are positive, or as positive as one can be, about attending the school. By all means, don’t switch from applying from your top choice school because its early action, and run out and find an early decision school. And if you’re on course to apply regular decision because you want to have options, do it. Unless you’re 100% sure, its the best way to go.

Early Decision/Early Action

September 27, 2006


People love to speculate and strategize about early decision and early action. At some colleges, the acceptance rate is significantly higher for the early pool than the regular pool which leads many students to play their odds and apply early in hopes of increasing their chances of getting in. Other students apply early because they know, without much doubt, that their first choice school is far above their second choice on their preference list. Some people apply early because they just want to be done by the holidays and don’t want to have to think about it anymore.


First, for clarification, some terms.


Early Action – schools that have early action programs allow students to apply earlier than the regular deadline (November 1 or 15, as opposed to January 1 or 15) but do not bind students to attend if accepted.

Early Decision – schools that have early decision programs allow students to apply early (November 1 or 15, also) but if an early decision applicant is accepted, he or she MUST attend that school.


Early decision is binding. Early action is not.

Harvard recently did away with its early action program and stirred up much discussion about the impact and consequences of these early programs. Brown University is a school that has flip flopped between early action and early decision. Yale, too, has switched in recent years. I have stopped keeping close track because colleges have compelling reasons to adopt each option, or do away with it entirely, and they may well continue to alternate between the two. Let schools fuss about their policies. Your job is to find schools that you think would be a good fit.

For students, apply early if:

  • you know which school you want to attend and your #1 choice is clear,
  • you have taken care of your standardized testing and your recommendation requests in advance,
  • you are an athlete being recruited by the coach and have regular contact with that coach (if you fall into this category you will know it) and it is your top choice school.

Do not apply early if:

  • your junior year grades aren’t your strongest because schools will not see your senior year grades. At best, they will see midterm grades.
  • you’re doing it because everyone else is doing it,
  • you think it’s the only way to get in.

A note on the statistical difference between acceptance rates of early options and regular decision.

In my experience, the early decision/action pool has a high concentration of recruited athletes (who have been carefully prescreened by coaches and stand a good chance of being admitted), and legacies (who usually have a greater acceptance rate anyway). Students who can afford to ignore senior year grades are likely to have consistently strong grades from 9th-11th grades, activities, recommendations such that they do not need to rely on the success of senior fall (and all the leadership potential and coursework that accompanies it). Basically, yeah, acceptance rates for early decision/action are often higher because the pool is a stronger pool. And by stronger, I mean that it includes many students who colleges and universities admit at higher rates anyway. It means very little for the applicant who does not fall into a special category.


Clearly, debates can and do occur around the issue of legacies and athletes and the special preference they receive, but until that debate is settled and so long as application deadlines are approaching, most applicants do not need to concern themselves with these issues. They will not be fought and won in the time between now and when admissions officers are reading your application.


Focus on what you can do for yourself and don’t believe the hype about having an easier time getting in early versus regular decision. Colleges are well aware of the categorical differences in the two pools and reserve plenty of spaces at regular decision. Trust me, its no fun to have to reject people in regular admission. Schools want to leave themselves options and one of those options is to accept the best from both the early and regular decision pools. It’s ok to pace yourself through this process and not apply early. Yes, everyone seems to be doing it, but your college application process is too important and personal to rely on the trends of your peers.