This is the sixth post in a continuing series about a high school senior attempting to navigate through the college admissions process. She is Samantha Fogel, a student at The Derryfield School, a private college preparatory day school for grades six through twelve in Manchester, New Hampshire. Samantha and her college counselor, Brennan Barnard, are documenting her application process in a series of occasional posts that include the voices of her parents, teachers, friends and others. Her story may help debunk some myths surrounding selective college admission while providing a window into a time of transition for one young woman growing up in rural New Hampshire.
In the first post, which you can read the first post here, Samantha Fogel and Brennan Barnard wrote about the beginnings of the college search. Fogel explained how starting the application process was like “being sent out to sea by myself with 20 different maps.” The second post, with thoughts from Barnard as well as her parents, Erin and Jeff Fogel, speaks to the issue of how to parent a child trying to finish high school while undergoing the anxiety-ridden college application process. The third post looks at her unconventional search for colleges to visit to help decide where to apply. The fourth piece explains how she decided which college to apply to through the early decision process, and the fifth was about how not to bomb the dreaded college application essay. Here’s the next in the series, about being deferred.
From Brennan Barnard:
“Please hold, your call is important to us. Please hold the line, we will be with you shortly.” I pace about the house trying to tune out the grating sound of elevator music. Attempting to distract myself with everyday chores, I fight an increasingly stiff neck as I balance the phone between my shoulder and ear. Growing increasingly frustrated and impatient, I am offered the periodic teaser that someone will respond soon. What seems like days later, I am starting to weigh the benefits of remaining on hold. Is there really an answer out there or might I be permanently stuck in limbo? If someone does indeed take my call, will it be what I am looking for, or will I have wasted time? Should I hang up and try another line? Do I really want to buy their product anyway?
No doubt we have all experienced the aggravation of being placed on hold. In a world increasingly dictated by instant gratification and information at our fingertips, the concept of being suspended in ambiguity and uncertainty is foreign. Why wonder when we can just Google the answer? Why write a letter when we can text? Why sit down to a wonderfully prepared dinner when we can cruise by the drive-thru? We are accustomed to prompt responses and immediate certainty. Unfortunately, when it comes to college admission, this is not always the case. Often students are left listening to the music, wondering if it is worth staying on the line or if it is time to try another number and hope someone picks up.
The middle of December was a mixed bag for many high school seniors. Some students celebrated as the “thick envelope” of admittance arrived in their mailbox/ inbox. Others were seemingly crushed by the much thinner response, indicating that they had been denied early admission and had to move on to other colleges on their list. Then there was the large number of applicants whose letter was neither thick nor thin. Instead, they were left holding the phone of deferral, with months ahead on hold.
As I spoke with my colleagues in college admission, from schools throughout the country, I was struck by yet another year of significant increases in Early Decision and Early Action applications. As has been the trend in the past few years, many colleges saw their early pools grow by double-digit percentages. Dartmouth College, for example had a 26 percent rise in Early Decision applicants. Williams College had 41 percent growth and The University of Pennsylvania, the college that spearheaded the early decision movement, saw a 24 percent bump.
What does this mean for Samantha Fogel and her peers in the class of 2015? In many cases, as in Sam’s, on December 15th, students were placed on hold, continuing to listen to the music of uncertainty for three more months. Applicants are left with more questions than answers. What if I had taken the SAT again? What if I had done one more draft of my essay, or perhaps chosen a different topic? Did I not show enough volunteer work in high school? Am I not good enough? Am I not smart enough, capable enough, athletic enough or talented enough?
The answer is “D: none of the above.” A deferral indicates that a candidate is admissible to the college but enrollment managers are limited in how many students they can admit. While this is rarely any comfort to a student trying to process his or her disappointment, it does mean that there is still an opportunity to make the case for being admitted in the spring.
So what now?
First of all, students must follow the instructions in the deferral letter closely. If the college asks for a letter of continued interest, then don’t miss an opportunity to express why the college continues to feel like a good fit. Consider the initial application. Where there any strengths, involvement or accomplishments that did not seem to be brought to light? Is there an employer, teacher, pastor or another adult that knows you well and would be willing to write an additional recommendation on your behalf? Are there updates on class achievements or other honors that have occurred since the fall? Maybe you did not have a chance to visit campus or have an interview. If this option is still available, then do it. That being said, don’t overdo it. Do not shower the admission office with emails, recommendations and knocks at their door during a busy time of reviewing applications. Again, follow directions and if the college asks that no additional materials be sent, it is in your interest to honor that.
Finally, consider that with the passage of time, perhaps your interest in the college has shifted. It could be that if someone ultimately picks up the phone, you may not want to talk to them anyway. At the very least, hold your head high and find ways to get excited about the other schools on your list and acknowledge that it has become a numbers game and a tool for colleges to address the competing needs of a rounded entering class. Though there are steps that can be taken to increase your odds, this is not a judgment on your self worth.
From Samantha Fogel
Every time I thought about the fated letter from Bates College, I pictured either a cheery introduction along the lines of “we are pleased to inform you…” or the far more devastating beginning, “we regret to inform you….” In both scenarios, I had a solid answer. I could celebrate and proudly know for the rest of the school year I would soon be a Bobcat, or I could sulk for a day or two, then cut my losses and find another school at which I would be happy. Unfortunately, in every imagined scenario, I never acknowledged the possibility of a deferral.
Perhaps this is why it hit me so hard when on Monday, December 15 at 6 p.m., I was notified that I had been deferred into the regular decision pool. In the back of my mind, I knew that this did not mean I had been rejected; however, it still felt like a slap in the face. A deferral can best be described as purgatory. I could not ascend to a state of happiness nor descend into a state of despair. I felt stuck.
As I have had time to process the decision, being deferred has turned out to be far less disappointing than I had initially perceived it to be; perhaps it is even beneficial. My sister, admitted early decision to Dartmouth two years ago, explained how daunting it sometimes was to be committed to one school so early. She explained that she often had second thoughts about whether Dartmouth was actually the right school for her, lacking the perspective she could have gained if she had the opportunity to select her college from a myriad of other options.
Although I still feel Bates is the best school for me, the prospect of other schools is exciting. Colby has been put back on my list, as well as St. Lawrence, the University of Vermont, the University of New Hampshire, Hamilton, Clark, Northeastern, and even a school in Canada, Concordia University. I have chosen to forgo any round-two early decision applications, as I feel that at this point it would be far more practical, as well as comfortable for me, to keep my options open without any binding obligations.
With this freedom, I take solace in the notion that whichever college I attend in the fall, I will have fully explored all the potential schools, rather than apply to a single college and risk the nagging feeling that I did not actually choose the right school. I find the best coping mechanism for dealing with the uncertainty of the college process at this point is to simply remind myself of the underlying truth that I will be happy at any school I attend.