What Can Deferred Applicants Do?

According to the 2017 edition of NACAC's State of College Admission survey, colleges with Early Decision policies reported a higher acceptance rate for their ED applicants as compared to all applicants – 60% versus 48% overall.  And nearly half of the most selective colleges (those whose acceptance rate is less than 50%) offered an ED option.  Similarly, the admit rate for Early Action (EA) was 71% on average compared to an admit rate of 65% on average for Regular Decision applicants. 

Of course, the above statistics are averages for colleges and universities across the country.  The table below shows how different the numbers are at the Ivies (and others) where the highest admit rate for early applicants is roughly 28% (Dartmouth) and the highest admit rate for Regular Decision applicants is nearly 11% (Cornell).

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If a student is not accepted during the ED or EA round, he/she is either rejected outright or “deferred” to the Regular Decision pool of applicants. While this may be encouraging for students who theoretically still have a chance at acceptance, the number of deferred applicants who ultimately are admitted is very low.  Many top tier universities, unfortunately, are guilty of deferring far too many early applicants.  

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Nevertheless, deferred students often prefer to remain optimistic and try to increase their chances of acceptance. Here’s what a student can do:  ask the high school counselor to call the admissions office to learn if there is anything you can do (i.e. an alumni interview, another recommendation letter). More importantly, the counselor should inform the office that you will definitely enroll should you be accepted in the spring.  The counselor can also find out if writing a deferral letter may work in your favor. But if the college specifically asks deferred students not to write a letter, don’t.

In case the counselor gives you the green light to draft a letter, keep it short (no more than 250 words) and write about how this institution can help you grow your interests and achieve your goals.  What does this school offer that others don’t? How will you take advantage of their courses, internship and/or research opportunities?  Choose one area about yourself and describe how you fit into this particular campus.  It’s up to you to give this top-choice school another reason to take you.

Building the College List ~ Part One

The college list is like a piece of art, a work in progress, constantly modified throughout the college search and beyond. While some high school counselors draft a preliminary list for juniors, most students will be on their own to begin, and then continuously develop, their own list of schools. 

'reach'  'target'  'safety'

It is important to maintain a realistic attitude when researching colleges. All students should have a handful of each type of school: "reach, target, safety." Because the final list will have this variety in terms of selectivity, the preliminary list should also include colleges across a spectrum.  This is the first in a three-part series on how to explore colleges to generate a strategic and sensible college list that best fits the student.

ESSENTIAL FACTORS:  Some of the essential factors for selecting colleges are location, size, academic majors, campus life, and of course, the student's current academic record. 

Location – how far from home do you really want to go? If you’ve had enough of northern winters, do you want to spend the next four years in sunnier climes?  

Size - do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?  If you're in a small high school and want the feel of a lot more people around you, consider visiting some of the larger universities (at least 25,000 undergrads), but also visit colleges with 10 to 12,000 undergrads in order to compare. If you're in a large public high school and prefer smaller classes and greater access to professors, consider visiting smaller colleges (4,000 undergrads or fewer).

Academics - If you have some idea of what you'd like to study, checking the list of majors and minors is important. Many universities will have schools specific to areas of study (business, education, communications, engineering, etc.). If you have no idea whatsoever what to major in, review the majors at the liberal arts colleges.

[Part Two of this series will cover the specific criteria with which to gauge academic majors and minors as well as the quality of academic programs]

College Search Resources –  Below are a few websites to help with the initial search.

  • bigfuture.collegeboard.org
  • niche.com
  • cappex.com
  • unigo.com

Fewer International Students Applying to US Colleges

For many years, US colleges and universities sought out international students and highlighted their presence on campuses. Yet recently, global competition for college students has been increasing and more colleges outside the US are seeking to attract students.

US is Now #4

At this year’s annual conference, NACAC reported that European student enrollments are on a sharp rise in Canada and the UK.  As the cost of tuition at US universities continues to rise, international students are finding that non-US colleges offer a better value.  In fact, amongst all international students, the US is now #4 behind Canada, the UK and Australia.

Furthermore, more and more US applicants are also turning to Canadian institutions. The University of Toronto, for example, saw an 80% increase in US applications alongside an increase in international students.  US applications at McGill University were up 25% and up 50% at Ryerson University (in downtown Toronto) last year.

 According to NACAC, “international students are looking beyond the US due to the current political climate and other factors.”  Immigration denials was a big factor leading to a downturn in applications from China and Asia.  Amongst European students, New Zealand is also becoming more popular as well as Dutch universities which saw an 150% increase in applications.

Changing Recruitment Strategy

Nevertheless, US colleges are not discouraged and say they will modify their recruitment methods. “Many are thinking about spring travel abroad, adding interviews to gauge interest, more communication that campus is safe” and that international students are welcomed.  Colleges also will turn to recruiting international students who are already in the US attending high school here.

"What Colleges Want in an Applicant? (Everything)

The above-titled, recent article in the New York Times is a genuine representation of today's college admissions process  - "a maddening mishmash of competing objectives, " as the subhead states. Yet, the piece points out that "only 13% of four-year colleges accept fewer than half of their applicants."  Hence, casting a wide net is always in the student's best interest.

Many colleges rely on "holistic" evaluations where an applicant's personality and character are assessed in addition to the numbers (grades and test scores). At Trinity College, admissions officers now look for "evidence of 13 characteristics - including curiosity, empathy, openness to change, and ability to overcome adversity" as they review applications.  How do admissions readers judge? From information included in essays and recommendation letters, which make these components especially important.  

Even More Student Info

Yet because of the increasing number of applications each year, some admissions offices seek even more information about applicants.  At Olin College of Engineering applicants are selected to compete in a two-day audition. They work in small groups to complete a tabletop design challenge and later more complex tasks (i.e. designing a new campus building). Evaluators observe how students collaborate and communicate with one another. "This allows us to see them in motion, in an educational moment," explains Olin's dean of admissions. 

Some colleges are exploring alternative ways to measure student potential. One asks applicants to demonstrate their "emotional intelligence" to highlight their ability to work with others, and another wants students to display "their fire for learning."  The new Coalition application, accepted by more than 130 campuses, features a virtual "college locker" where students can upload videos and written works throughout their high school years and then include them in college applications.  

Yale's dean of admissions is pleased with such options: "Now, we have the ability to get to know a student better from a different type of submission."  He goes on to describe one high school senior who submitted a four-minute video documenting his Eagle Scout project in which he was involved in constructing a veterans memorial. 

More work, More worry

While all of the above may ease the job of admissions officers, what does it mean for the 17-year old completing a college application?  More work, more worry. Now students have to make sure their recommendation letters say just the right things about them. And the ever-daunting personal essay now looms even larger as it takes on more weight with admissions readers.  Do Yale applicants now have to become filmmakers to be considered? College officials seek to make their own lives easier without any regard to how it impacts the poor teens who are at their mercy. 

Should You Hire an Independent Counselor?

Parents often ask me what can I do for their teen on the college journey that the high school counselor cannot. Having been in their shoes, I understand the need for parents to weigh cost versus benefit. Parents want to know that I have something valuable to offer that the high school counselor does not. The answer is yes. A recent article in the NACAC Journal of College Admission explores the advantages of having an independent educational consultant (IEC) and the school counselor collaborating in the best interests of the student.

There's been a three-fold increase in the number of independent counselors across the country in the past five years. This is partly due to the overload of students that school counselors must manage. As the article states: "with school budgets being cut right and left [school counselors] don't have time."  Furthermore, while the cost of going to college continues to go up every year, the cost of hiring an IEC has remained stable.

Available 24/7

Every family comes to the college admissions journey with expectations and concerns, and lots of questions.  The number one value that an IEC provides is the availability to answer questions anytime and to offer as much customized guidance as each individual student requires. I tell my families that I am available 24/7 and both students and parents have my cell phone number to reach me evenings, weekends, holidays. The school counselor obviously cannot provide this level of commitment and may have very limited office hours especially in a large school.

Get the Best of Both Worlds

Nevertheless, the school counselor is the student's best ally and I emphasize this to all of my students.  Only the school counselor knows the senior class: where are the student's classmates applying? given this school's track record, what are the student's chances of acceptance to the colleges on his/her list? The school counselor is privy to "inside information" that can be crucial.  If both counselors work together, the student gets the best of both worlds.

By keeping in touch and talking directly to one another, the IEC and the school counselor can not only avoid duplicating efforts, but they can share their expertise and knowledge base about colleges. IECs build relationships with college admissions personnel just as school counselors do. Hence the addition of the IEC's connections to the school counselor's network can only benefit the student. In addition, because the IEC gets to know the student on a more personal level, the consultant can share insights that help define the colleges that are truly a best fit for the student.

Achieve Results

Because IECs have experience working with schools, parents should ask a prospective consultant how he or she has handled this in the past and how the parent should broach the topic with the school counselor. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that both counselors sincerely want what's best for your teen and will do whatever it takes to achieve the best results.

 

Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, It All Matters

Clean up social media.  For years, college advisors have been encouraging students to sanitize their Facebook pages, but today’s social media is expanding its online presence exponentially. And as Big Brother-esque as it may sound, admissions officers are watching. In fact, a recent survey revealed that at least a third of college admissions officers conceded that they do look at the social media use of many applicants.

Just this past spring, Harvard revoked the admissions offers to 10 incoming freshmen after the university discovered that the students had exchanged sexually explicit memes and derogatory Facebook messages targeting minority groups.  A recent article warns students to stay away from social media as a means of communicating with colleges because these accounts become available for further investigation.

That said, students can use social media to boost, rather than hinder, their college applications.  For example:

  • An appealing Twitter page that suggests cultural engagement and/or intellectual curiosity. 
  • Mature personal blog posts.
  • News articles about a student's academic or athletic achievements. 
  • Mentions of volunteer work on an organization's website and/or social media.

Why Fall Visits Are So Important

Most juniors begin college campus tours in the spring and find out that they really should have started earlier. Why the rush? It is virtually impossible to visit 8-10 colleges in a space of 3 spring months, especially when those 3 months are also consumed with test prep, extra-curriculars, and keeping up grades.  Placing this kind of pressure on students is precisely what independent college counselors and savvy parents try to avoid. So let's break it down.

~ Why does my teen need to see so many colleges?  There is nothing better than walking around a campus, sitting in an actual class, listening to students in the cafeteria, checking out the dorms, speaking with professors, to give a prospective student a real sense of what that college is all about.

Yet, this is far from the only reason to see as many schools as possible. In the past three years, college admissions reps are placing increasing importance on "demonstrated interest." Colleges want to see and hear why a prospective student wants to attend. These days, an applicant must prove why a particular college is such a good fit for him/her; students must 'demonstrate' their 'interest' in a personal way.

--- Demonstrating interest:  The insights, impressions, recollections a student feels on a college visit are crucial to expressing substantive "demonstrated interest."  The more personal details a student includes in an essay or email, the more genuine that student's interest becomes. It's almost as if the prospective student needs to gather firm evidence to make a solid case to support his/her desire to attend. The application alone is not enough anymore.

~ How do I select colleges to visit? Because high school counselors typically do not begin the college list process with juniors until January, students and parents are left on their own to do so. College guidebooks are a good start, especially those categorized by state. There are enough colleges within a 2-hour drive from any major city to explore. Criteria to consider include location, size, weather, and academic concentrations.

~ Do I really need to go along on the visits? Yes. Many colleges have activities and discussions specifically for parents. Moreover, parents are most likely to be the note takers and record keepers and writing down as much as possible is critical.

Independent Counselors - Independent college counselors are a tremendous resource for families pulling a list together in a hurry. Counselors know the small, medium and large colleges nearby as well as which schools focus on liberal arts, business, sciences, etc. Counselors also provide families with:

  • specific instructions to streamline college website research
  • key questions to ask on a tour
  • important steps to take before and after the campus visit to build connections to colleges.

 

 

 

Key Advice for a Unique Personal Essay

Next to grades, the personal essay is the key element to a student's college application. Yet, all students struggle with writing it. Unlike analytical papers written for literature and history classes, the personal essay does not follow a rubric, it is not formulaic in any way.  This actually makes it more difficult to write as there is no template or outline to follow.

Self-reflection is crucial

The self-reflection that the essay requires of students further exacerbates their apprehension and uncertainty.  Writers need to share specific stories, anecdotes, and experiences. To do this effectively, the student must dig deep and use words that may feel slightly uncomfortable.  They must show that through this introspection they have come to understand themselves. The qualities and experiences unique to the writer help colleges learn more about the applicant and why this student belongs on their campus.

Probably the hardest part of writing this essay is getting enough detail on paper.  Students tend to write in general, vague, even cliché-d terms.  A lot of words that say basically nothing.  My role is to pull those details out because they are always in there.  Once prodded, students recite wonderful, exciting, dramatic stories that come to life on paper.  I encourage as many visuals as possible so the reader can truly “see” and “feel” what the writer is relating.  The more the reader feels, the more effective the essay.

Layering with many drafts

Writing is a process that takes time and perseverance and many drafts. But this is precisely what students heading off to college need to learn.  The essays, research papers, theses, they must compose even as college freshmen will require several drafts, each one adding greater support to the previous draft.  With the personal essay, each layer adds clarity and conviction culminating in a compelling narrative that flows smoothly, but also touches.

Pros and Cons of Early Applications

Every fall, high school seniors finalize their college lists and question if they should apply Early Decision (ED) to a given college.  Parents wonder if there is any advantage to applying early to a school and worry if their child does submit an ED application, will the family lose the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from a number of colleges.

Higher Acceptance Rate for Both ED and EA

According to the 2016 edition of NACAC's State of College Admission survey, colleges reported an average increase of 10% in the number of Early Decision applications between fall 2015 and fall 2016.  The number of acceptances of ED applicants also increased, by 11% for the same time period. Colleges that offer Early Decision reported a higher acceptance rate on average for ED applications relative to all applicants: 62% versus 51%. 

Similarly, the number of applications submitted through Early Action (EA) increased as well, this time by seven percent. For fall 2016, 40% of applications to colleges with Early Action admissions plans were received through EA applications.  The admit rate for EA applicants was 73% on average compared to an admit rate of 66% on average for Regular Decision applicants.

Hence, there is a significant advantage to applying EA to colleges and there is no down side. There is a down side to applying ED regarding financial aid. Early decision is a binding agreement and an acceptance means accepting the school's financial aid award even if a better one may have been offered from another institution. If a student receives an ED acceptance, the student will receive one - and only one - financial aid offer.  Also, early acceptance typically includes a deposit on enrollment. If you back out of the commitment, you lose your spot and your deposit.

You Can Say 'No' to ED Acceptance

If a student applies for financial aide when he/she submits an ED application, and financial aid officials determine that the family does not qualify for aid, or qualifies for less aid than the family was hoping for, the student can decline the acceptance without penalty provided this is done immediately.  This rarely happens, almost 90% of students accepted through ED do enroll in that institution.

 

Enriching the Counselor's Recommendation Letter

While a teacher's recommendation may emphasize a student's academic abilities and attitude toward learning, the guidance or college counselor can focus more on the student's personal growth and role within the school community. The counselor should address the student's strength of character and interpersonal skills as well as the student's goals in college.

Details & Examples

The most memorable recommendation letters tell a specific story. Rather than listing everything under the sun, they target key strengths and qualities.  Often, admissions officers are impressed by a student's commitment to developing expertise or cultivating skill in a certain area.  All the more reason why the counselor’s letter should include examples and anecdotes.  Not only do stories help the student come to life and differentiate her from others with similar qualities, but they also show that the counselor has gotten to know the student.  Letters that indicate a relationship with the student carry more weight.

Yet in most high schools, the counselor drafting the letter does not know the student well and that’s where the student must make a greater effort.  In a letter or email, share your ideas with the counselor. What are your strengths? accomplishments? struggles?  What are the most important things you want colleges to know about you?  Elaborate with details, examples, and stories. Don’t worry if the letter gets long, the more information you provide, the richer the counselor letter becomes.

Forge a Bond

Make sure to thank the counselor for his/her time and volunteer to stop by the office to follow up.  The counselor may have some questions for you or you may want to suggest that he or she speak with a coach, or a teacher other than those already writing recommendation letters.  The more you develop a cordial relationship with the counselor, the more likely he/she will be to advocate for you strongly when speaking with college admissions representatives.