Question: Many schools have deferred my Early Action/Decision application, is that a bad sign? Additionally, what necessary steps should I take in order to ensure that at least one accepts me?
If your ED and EA colleges were all “Reach" schools, and you hoped that you'd boost admission odds by showing Early interest, then it's not surprising that you were widely deferred. I think that this has been an especially tough year so far, with many seemingly qualified candidates receiving disappointing news.
But it's also possible that you received bad advising (or that you ignored GOOD advising!) and that you don't have a realistic sense of where you're likely to be admitted. Many students (and their parents, and even their guidance counselors) don't fully realize how stiff the “competition" can be, especially at the most sought-after schools.
While Early Decision usually provides an admissions advantage (because colleges may give preference to candidates willing to make a binding commitment), Early Action can be the opposite ... i.e., colleges don't want to save a space for applicants who ultimately won't enroll unless these applicants are especially strong. So you could be very much in the running at all of your colleges—especially your EA choices—and there are definitely some steps you can take to promote your candidacy.
First, follow this link to an “Ask the Dean" column about Ivy League deferral. When you've read it, you will have a good sense of what to do and what not to do. http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/help-with-columbia-deferral-reversal/ Even if your colleges are not Ivies, the advice is the same. Here are the most important things that you SHOULD do (which you'll see in the “Ask the Dean" column"):
-You definitely SHOULD write an Update letter. There's a link to a sample Update letter right in the “Ask the Dean" column cited above, or you can read it directly here: http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/how-do-i-send-resume-updates-to-colleges/
The Update letter should include new information about your activities and also emphasize briefly why each college is a great place for you. If you already submitted a “Why this college?" essay when you first applied, try to come up with a couple additional thoughts. One way to do this is to scour the college newspaper for an interesting article and then comment on it in your letter (e.g., “The Theater Mentorship initiative, that I recently read about in the Weekly Planet, sounds very exciting because it meshes with my interests in both performing arts and community service.")
When a college is your first choice and you will definitely enroll if admitted, be sure to say this clearly at the very beginning or the very end of the letter. (Those are the spots that the admission folks will pay the most attention to.) However, don't tell EVERY college that it's your first choice. (Bad karma!!!)
It can be tough to come up with Updates in January since you've probably spent the last couple months since you applied working on school stuff or on OTHER applications. Most seniors have few memorable achievements to report in January and February. But when you read the sample letter, you'll see that some of the bullet items aren't anything especially memorable or really aren't actual “achievements" at all. You can mention any grades that have improved since you applied or—if your grades were top-notch back then and still are—you can simply say that your continue to do well in all your classes.
Use email, not snail-mail, for your letter. (Most colleges are itching to go paper-free.) Address it to your regional admissions rep and Cc the main admissions address. (The regional rep is the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school. You can often find names and contact info on the college Web site. If not, call the admission office to ask.)
-Ask your counselor to pick up the phone. It might be a small plus to have your guidance counselor call your regional rep to lobby on your behalf, some time around the end of January or in early February. Your counselor can explain why you are a good candidate and how you will definitely enroll if accepted, when that's the case. If there are other admissible seniors at your high school who have applied to the same colleges that you have, it can become tricky for a school counselor to advocate for just one of them. But it's certainly something you should discuss with your counselor. Some colleges do not take counselor calls but most will.
-Consider getting cute. (Very) occasionally, an appropriate “gimmick" can help. For instance, I once had an advisee whose application touted his talents as a photographer. He took a photo of himself standing in front of the sign for the competitor college that had admitted him, and made it into a postcard with a funny caption. He sent it to his top-choice college and was admitted off the wait list. (This was well before most of us had heard of memes, so he was way ahead of his time!) Of course he'll never know if it was the post card that did the trick, so don't devote too much time or thought to this gimmick thing unless you're really inspired, because it's a long shot.
-Don't call colleges yourself.
-Don't send extra recommendations although the grapevine may insist that this is the first thing to do. But, unless you have a recommender in mind who can show a whole new side of you that the references you sent already will not, the college folks will not want to read more letters, however glowing.
-Don't mix-up your letters! If you're sending updates to several colleges, triple-check them to make sure that you deleted all the references to ANOTHER college!
When a student has been deferred in the Early round, there are never steps to take that will “ensure" acceptance in the spring. But if you follow the suggestions above, you should put yourself in the best possible position for better news by April. Meanwhile, take a close look at your college list to make sure that you have appropriate choices. While many deadlines have passed, there are plenty of schools out there that are still accepting applications. So if you think you may be aiming too high, add one or two safer places to the roster. And if you're not sure if you've aimed too high and want to spend $150 on an expert evaluation of your admission chances, write back and I'll tell you who can help.
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