College Pete

The End of Safety Schools + Why Deferred is NOT Denied & What You Can Do About It

The End of Safety Schools + Why Deferred is NOT Denied & What You Can Do About It

Last week, many colleges announced their results for Early Decision and Early Action. Needless to say, it was an emotional week for a lot high school seniors  (and of course, the parents who love them). Locally to my home office, no school garnered more attention that Florida State, which saw nearly 22,000 students across the state apply Early Action (FSU’s Early Action program is exclusively for Florida residents). For perspective, this represented a 28% increase in the number of applicants from last year’s already record setting applicant pool.

In my 17 years of practice, I have seen Florida State University go from what was perhaps perceived as a 2nd tier, state university with a 62% acceptance rate (2005) to a more selective, seriously competitive in-state top option with a 24% acceptance rate (with a record 72,000 applicants under consideration). In case you’re wondering, in that same time period, FSU has NOT increased the number of seats available to incoming freshman resulting in an accompanying big increase in average SAT/ACT scores, transcript requirements and essay scrutiny. Consider: last year, FSU admitted applicants with an average SAT score of 1370. This year, among the early applicants the average score was 1410, with 38% admitted.

Once the final numbers are counted in February 2024, I expect to see a similarly selective result for the Class of 2028. So, as I’ve been telling my Florida-based students, if you’ve been looking at FSU as your ‘safety’ school academically, you’d be doing so at your own peril.

This goes for most schools that are ‘popular’; Duke, for example, saw a 28% increase in their early applications; Dartmouth was up 18%, Barnard set a record (1694 ED applicants), Georgia and Notre Dame were up 3% and the list goes on.

With all of this ‘application inflation’, I’m not surprised that many students learned last week that they were deferred from FSU, or from other schools. And I think it’s extremely important to remind students that a deferral does not equate to denial or rejection from a college or university. Over the years we have had multiple students go from ‘deferred’ to ‘accepted.’! 

Fact is, there are many reasons, and rumored reasons, for a ‘deferred decision’. Among them: they want to see your 1st semester grades because your transcript may be inconsistent; perhaps they want you to take the SAT or ACT once more; or they had more applicants than anticipated and were truly overwhelmed, so they didn’t yet have the chance to thoroughly review yours. Maybe they’re waiting to see the size of their overall applicant pool to manage their ‘Admit Rate’. Perhaps they are waiting to see who withdraws, now that binding Early Decisions have been received, in order to manage their ‘yield.’ We’ve discussed all of these with our colleagues and with admissions officers directly, and we’ve heard all of these reasons floated. Perhaps we’ll never know about your application specifically, but what we do know is that unlike a rejection, you can actually do something about being ‘deferred’. And doing the right somethings, can help a deferred applicant become an admitted one! 

If you have been ‘deferred’ AND it is truly a school that you want to attend, here is your opportunity to communicate with your admissions officer (yes, you can actually talk to them), demonstrate some interest and possibly move the needle in your direction! Granted, you should have been corresponding with them already – either way, now is an opportunity. If a school shares specific instructions on next steps to address a deferral, such as sending updated test scores. or a 1st semester grade report, or an updated SSAR, be sure to comply as soon as you can. And if there is anything new in your life since your application was submitted, perhaps an award, or new leadership position, or a new job, be sure to let them know.

That said, it does mean that for some, you’ll have to live with the ambiguity of ‘wait and see’, which we know is much easier said than done! Unfortunately, ambiguity is PART of the College Admissions process and part of life. However, that doesn’t mean that it feels fair. Let’s face it – most of us have at some point in our lives felt as if there was a ‘game’ being played around us where we weren’t given the rules to win. We hear this a lot about the college admissions process. As in, ‘it’s just NOT fair.’ For the most part, they’re right. The College Admissions ‘Game’ (which includes both access and affordability) is NOT played on a level playing field. Those students with greater access – to test prep, to good guidance, to an engaged parent who graduated from the college they’d like to attend – do have a leg up on those who don’t. It doesn’t mean they are necessarily smarter or better students, but they do have more resources or leverage and if they are utilizing them to be better prepared for this particular process, perhaps the  odds do seem to tip in their favor. I hope, however, that the takeaway from this piece is that there are steps any applicant can take (e.g., demonstrate interest) to improve their deferral prospects – and I hope you’ll take them.

Now then, a note to parents: Unlike admissions decisions, financial aid offers are far less final, and therefore you have more room to maneuver, to appeal, even (gasp!) negotiate. Notice the language difference: admissions decisions, and financial aid offersThe latter can be countered, as in a counter-offer or appeal. Oftentimes there are very good reasons to appeal a financial aid offer, such as a recent job loss, a medical issue that results in high expense or time away from work (lost wages), a natural disaster, or some other event that has a significant financial impact. I have written about financial aid appeals before, and surely next spring I’ll have an update for you on that topic. Stay tuned!

On what I hope is a more upbeat note, I want to recognize YCC’s Class of 2024 for earning acceptance into the following schools via Early Action, Early Decision, or Rolling Admission (so far). While we may have assisted many of these students, all credit goes to them for their success. Congratulations!:

Arizona State University, Babson College, Bard College, Bard College Berlin, Eckerd College, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida State University, Fordham University, Indiana University, Louisiana State University, Loyola University Chicago, Michigan State University, North Park University, Northwestern University, Nova Southeastern University, Ohio State University, Ole Miss, Penn State University, Rollins College, Stetson University, Tulane University, University of Alabama, University of Arizona, University of Central Florida, University of Denver, University of Georgia, University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh

Final note, please don’t let a deferral define your December. If you take proper action, you (hopefully) will get admitted into and receive a much desired financial aid or merit scholar package at many schools you covet. That’s my wish for you and your family for the Holidays and New Year.

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