Decisions from colleges are coming out like wildflowers on the hillside. The University of California are sending out notices as are private colleges and state colleges. Your hard work and excellent planning has paid off and you now have a bunch of choices to make.
Some of the responses are different than what you expected. After a year of tumult there is finally a path forward. But what does it all mean?
That one seems pretty straightforward: you are being offered a spot in the freshman class starting Fall of 2021. You should receive your financial aid award soon after acceptance. What are the next steps?
- Make sure you understand the financial aid award and what attending that college will cost each year in terms of direct payments as well as the accumulation of any loans. Contact the college financial aid office if you have any questions.
- Don’t slack off now. You have to finish the final high school semester strong. If your grades drop significantly, the school can rescind the offer. Pass all classes with at least a C.
- Talk to your school counselor to make sure that they will send your final official transcript to your new school. This is essential as there have been years where too many students decided to take the college offer (e.g. UC Irvine) and the school had to figure out how to lessen the number of attending freshmen.
- Make sure you respond with your SIR (“Statement of Intent to Register”) by the decision day deadline. Usually that deadline is May 1, but some schools are extending the deadline to allow students more time to make up their minds.
- Send the requested deposit to reserve your space by the deadline indicated.
- Make sure to check your new student portal and email frequently. If you miss or ignore deadlines it may result in the offer being cancelled.
Accepted: Spring or International semester abroad
More and more schools are offering these options for a number of reasons. First they know some students will drop out after the first semester and they want to keep their class full. Second, it is a way of managing enrollment, with the same goal of keeping the right number of students in the freshman class.
Courses are usually taught by university professors at a branch campus abroad in another country or part of the US. Because many of these colleges get an overwhelming number of eligible applicants, colleges use these programs to include more students.
Spring Admit: students start their freshman year in the spring semester. There are a lot of pros and cons, but realize that the student will not be the only one starting at that time and colleges will provide programs to ease them into the school. Resources:
International Semester/Year Abroad: More colleges are offering this option in places like London, Shanghai, Florence, and Madrid. You will be studying with a group of other freshmen and taught by professors from the university. Participants often talk about how this time abroad encouraged personal growth and gave them the experience of a close cohort of other students. https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/pros-cons-study-abroad-freshman
This is the hardest category. This is not a personal decision about your intellectual abilities or your readiness for college. Colleges get more applications than they can admit. They offer admissions acceptances to around one to three times the size of the freshman class because they know that not all students will decide to enroll. This is called yield.
Enrollment is driven by college priorities. If they just opened a new life sciences building or an arts facility, they will be looking for students who will participate in those programs. Some schools with active sports teams will admit students specifically for that. Perhaps they want to balance their male/female ratios. Most colleges are looking to admit students. They want a full vibrant freshman class who will blaze a trail to graduation. The hardest decisions admissions officers have to make is to decide between equally qualified and interesting students. Who gets offered a spot, and who doesn’t keeps them up at night.
If you are not accepted do your best to put it into context. Especially for schools that accept under 25% of the applicants. You have a lot of very talented, wonderful students who are in same boat you are. Be upset, then do your best to move on and focus on the schools that have accepted you.
Being waitlisted is a punch in the stomach. It means that they have reviewed your application and decided not to offer an acceptance, however, if not enough students enroll they could still consider admitting you. You are in a holding pattern.
Waitlists aren’t ranked. It is not a first come first served situation. Colleges use the waitlist to complete their enrollment needs. If not enough students accepted the offer in May, then they need more to fill up the dorms and classes. In a typical year according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (“NACAC”) 43% of four-year colleges offer waitlists. Of students offered a spot off the waitlist, 20% accept. For schools that admit under 50% of applicants, the highly selective schools, they only offer up to 7% of students a spot. For instance Harvard took 0 students off the waitlist in most years, but in 2020 they accepted 65 because not enough students committed to the school during the pandemic. In other words, the odds aren’t great at many schools.
HOWEVER, 2021 admissions predictions are incredibly murky. Colleges throughout the country took a huge economic hit as campuses closed, classes went online, and students decided not to attend or took a leave of absence. Room and board is a major income generator for colleges and even though students were enrolled, they were not on campus. Although the rate of infection and disease is currently declining and there are several vaccines available, there is no way of knowing what will happen during the summer of 2021 into the fall when classes start. The likelihood is that if enough people are vaccinated and moderate their behavior that the incredible impact of Covid-19 might be much smaller by the time college freshmen appear at their new dorms.
What this means is that admissions officers and enrollment managers are living off of coffee and tums. They do not know to a certainty, and nobody can accurately predict, how many students will show up for classes in August of 2021.
This is why in 2021 most professionals think that the colleges will be turning to the waitlist this year to fill up the student spots more than ever. Please note that coming off the waitlist is not based on merit. Each school has specific needs and will choose students from the waitlist who fit those categories. Perhaps they don’t have enough Pell Grant students or they need full-pay students, the football coach needs a tight-end or women’s basketball needs a free throw expert, perhaps they have a new arts facility that needs more students or a renowned astrobiology professor has joined the faculty and they need students for her to teach.
In most years who gets off the waitlist is a mystery. In 2021, it will be a full fledged conundrum.
What to do if offered a waitlist spot:
- Decide if you still really want to go to this school. Look at the acceptances and financial aid offers from your other schools. They want you and aren’t making you wait. Consider that carefully.
- Accept the waitlist position. Schools may require a form, a click on the school portal, or a letter of continued intent. Whatever it is, make sure you complete it by the deadline. If they require a letter, make it one-page and mention anything that is new and significant since you applied, i.e. semester grades, honors, or awards. Make sure to say that you are committed to attending the college if accepted.
- Stay in contact, not like a stalker, with the college representative for your area.
- Regularly check your college portal and email. If you miss a crucial email you are out of luck.
- Make sure to provide any additional information if requested, such as first semester senior grades. If they haven’t requested it, ask admissions if they would like any additional information or letters of recommendation.
- Try to look up the college’s waitlist statistics on the college website or Google it. Don’t be disappointed if the information is not available.
- There is a possibility that financial and merit aid offers will be lower because of the awards already made to other students. Full pay students may have a slightly better chance at some schools.
- ACCEPT a spot by May 1 from a school that has offered you a place in their freshman class and pay the requested deposit. If by chance the school accepts you from the waitlist you will lose your deposit at the first school and MUST inform them that you are withdrawing from the class.
Deferrals are usually given to students who have applied Early Decision or Early Action who are put in the Regular Decision pool. The generally means that the college hasn’t completely reviewed your application and decided to see how it compares to students in the Regular Decision pool.
What to do if deferred:
- Contact the admissions office to ask for any feedback on why you were deferred.
- Send in grades from senior year.
- Write a letter of continued interest, one-page in why an education at this college is so important to you. For example: specific classes or professors you are interested in.
- See if another teacher would be willing to write a letter of recommendation.
- Consider whether you still want to go to this school. Our responses change over time, and what was once our top choice can change. Be open to that. Perhaps another school would really be a better fit for you economically, academically, and socially.
There is no question that the response from a college can create great excitement and joy or plunge you into the pit of despair. Remember: Where you go to college is less important than what you do when you get there. If you have chosen your colleges well then all of your options, regardless of their response to you, are good options.
As always, remember to breathe. And when in doubt eat chocolate.