The new year is underway; a chance for fresh horizons and new endeavors. For high school seniors who applied early to colleges, now might be a time to rejoice … or to regroup.
With about 450 colleges and universities offering some sort of early admission plan, a sizable and growing number of students are taking advantage of this opportunity.
Some of these early birds have started off the year with good news. That college they’ve always dreamed of attending (and therefore applied early to) has extended an offer of admission. Many have even been offered merit aid. These fortunate ones are done and know where they will be going to college. To this subset of students I offer my wholehearted congratulations. It’s reassuring when the process works.
But other students haven’t had such good news. They’ve either been deferred or denied. This can be crushing news coming at a really bad time, right during the holiday season and possibly during finals. What a downer for starting the new year.
So, is it worth it to apply early?
Whether to apply early is a very personal decision that depends on many individual characteristics. In a prior column (Sept. 24, 2013) I addressed the differences between regular decision, early admission and early decision. (See the information box for the pros and cons of applying early.)
If you do apply early, what should you do if you don’t get accepted?
This is a salient topic for many seniors. Let’s start with the worst-case scenario: denied. Often, schools will cite a reason for denial such as competitiveness of the applicant pool or impacted major. Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over the applicant pool, but if the major is the cause of the denial, then consider another major going forward.
In this scenario, it is time to go back to the drawing board and find other schools you like (which have deadlines that have not yet passed), and critically assess your chances of acceptance. Check out average grade ranges and test scores to get a sense of where you stand. Put your best effort into the remaining applications, make sure to go through a thorough editing process and watch deadlines.
Now, let’s walk through the other scenario: deferral. This situation is not the end of the world and should be viewed optimistically, although it can be a bit tricky.
First, what does it mean? Deferral means the admissions office was not ready to make a final decision about you yet. The school has postponed its decision and would like to compare you to the applicant pool at the regular decision time. You are in a holding pen.
Should you simply wait for regular decision time and hope you get lucky then? No, be proactive! It can make a difference.
Here’s what to do if you are deferred:
* Respond promptly to any requests made in the deferral letter and submit any additional information requested.
* Email the admissions officer who is in charge of your file or your area. This information is usually on the school’s website. Explain how interested you are in his or her school and why. Be specific. What about the school intrigues you? How did you learn about it? When did you know you wanted to go there? Have you visited?
* Ask if there’s anything in your application that you could explain further that may have caused them concern. Be brief and diplomatic. Remember, this is a really busy time of year for admissions officers.
* Next, consider submitting additional letters of recommendation as a way to provide new opportunities to distinguish yourself. Try to ask someone other than a teacher. Ask your coach or your boss at work, or possibly a rabbi or pastor. This can help round out your profile and show more dimensions of your personality.
* Even if not requested, send any new grades, test scores or awards that portray you in a positive light such as a high score on a science test, a student-of-the-month award or an impressive grade on an English paper.
* Maintain and work to improve your grades. When decision time rolls around, you want to show improvement.
Keep in mind that some schools are more amenable to this type of outreach than others, so you may not be able to send in additional information. Schools will let you know specific policy in this regard. By and large, though, it is always looked upon favorably to try since it shows you are proactive and enthusiastic.
Until next time
As usual, I want to end on an upbeat note by reminding everyone that there is a right college out there for all students. Although the admission process may be arduous, remember that in life it is more about the journey than the destination. Enjoy the ride.
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.
To apply early or not to apply early
1. If you have a school that you’re dying to go to.
2. If it is critical for planning purposes to have an answer early.
3. If you think you will be more competitive by signaling to the college that you have your heart set on attending that school.
4. If you think you may increase your likelihood of acceptance when you are compared to the early applicant pool.
1. You may not have all test scores and grades hit their peak for review.
2. You may not have the time to put your best foot forward within the compressed application process timeframe.
3. You may be so discouraged by a negative outcome that it could undermine motivation for rest of the application process.