So, your high school senior has just been deferred from his or her top choice school. It hurts. Your child is upset, feels unworthy and is focused on the seemingly endless number of friends who have gotten in early decision or early action. You feel powerless. Watching your child lose confidence is painful and you want to fix it, but you simply don’t know what to do. What advice should you give your child and what advice should you give yourself? Here’s my take on it:
First and foremost, don’t walk around complaining about the other kids who got in from your child’s school and the fact that they were unqualified, less special than your child or had unfair advantages. Some of that might be true, but you simply can never know the details of someone else’s application. Moreover, that type of negative attitude is infectious and not helpful. You might think it will make your senior feel better, but often it just results in your child becoming bitter or angry.
If a school has only accepted 10% or 20% of early applicants, explain to your child that the process is somewhat random when you’re dealing with numbers that low. The admissions committee might have reviewed your child’s application after a number of similar ones or at the end of a long day; unfortunately, while “holistic” applications might be your friend, the term also means that the process is subjective. And remember one thing: THE DECISION IS NOT A REFLECTION OF YOUR CHILD’S MERITS OR YOUR PARENTING.
However, you have to be realistic. The vast majority of deferred candidates at competitive schools will not get accepted during the regular decision process. Once again, it generally doesn’t indicate your child was unqualified or lacked something. It usually means that with a glut of strong regular decision candidates, your child’s application did not stand out. So, after a deferral, talk up the other appealing options your child might have. If your child has been accepted at a rolling decision or early action school that he or she is not wildly enthusiastic about, mention some positives about the school. And please, try not to be overly swayed by college rankings or acceptance statistics. Many colleges offer extraordinary educations, and focusing on one or two statistics is a bad idea.
That’s Great, but What Can We Do About the College That Issued the Deferral
There are a few steps your child can and should take in connection with the college that deferred her. First, check the school’s website to see if it accepts additional information or has any procedures about deferred students – most schools are open to new information, but a few have different policies. Second, make sure that your child, and NOT YOU, contacts the school. Colleges want a student who is independent and confident. They don’t want to hear from a frantic parent.
Your child should write an email to his admissions representative stating that the college remains his first choice (if that’s true). Mention something new if possible (“in addition to continuing to maintain strong grades, I have also . . .). Then, sometime by mid February or so, your student should send an update letter about why she remains a strong candidate, mentioning any relevant new activities or honors. In addition, your child can contact his guidance counselor. Sometimes the counselor can call the college and get information about a specific area of concern about the application.
Occasionally, students will send in additional recommendations or even a paper. Depending on the school, this might be helpful, but be certain that the new item highlights a different aspect of your child; if she’s already sent in a teacher recommendation from her 11th grade high school history teacher, it’s unlikely that a recommendation from a current history teacher will be particularly illuminating.
Students – Keep Up Your Grades!
This should be fairly self-evident, but the most important part of an application is the academic record in high school. If senior grades show a significant downward trend, any chance of getting into the deferred school will drop precipitously. So, seniors, make sure you participate in class, take your midterms and finals seriously, avail yourself of every opportunity for extra credit and continue to do well. And confirm that your guidance counselor has sent in your mid-year reports to any school where you have been deferred.
What If You Have Nothing New To Report
Sending an email to admissions sounds great, but what if you have nothing new to report in February? Seniors, this is the time to brainstorm and get involved with an upcoming activity! Enter a contest, become involved in Pi Day activities, get an internship for later in the year or set up a blog. Don’t do things just for college; do things you’re interested in and will get something out of.
What About Revisiting a School?
Revisiting is not necessarily the right strategy. Occasionally, a student might be able to speak to admissions, sit in on a class or even meet a professor and then send an email about it, but generally, nothing specific will result and you will have spent time and money unnecessarily.
What if I Still Don’t Get In
I know that right now, it might be difficult to believe, but the vast majority of students will be happy at any number of schools and there are lots of wonderful schools out there. If you’ve crafted an appropriate list and done your homework, you will have excellent options at the end of the process.