Students manage long college admissions process, along with optional testing

Lauren Shushi

Senior Olivia DeYoung is shocked after a stressful and overwhelming college admissions experience to receive a deferral from a large college that, statistically, she was likely to have gotten into. This news was especially jarring as the college she will be attending this coming fall is Wake Forest University, among the most prestigious in the country.

Across the board, high school seniors have seen a large amount of deferred or wait-listed applications as they take on this year’s admissions process.

“I think a lot of these big state schools are trying to get the best of the best,” DeYoung said. “So they’re deferring everyone, who in other years would’ve gotten in from the start. I also think they want to know their entire pool first before accepting anyone.”

A notoriously hard and emotional process for seniors, applying for colleges can often bring about feelings of stress, hardship or even vulnerability.

College guidance coordinator Katherine Montgomery attributes the high amounts of deferrals to colleges being more cautious.

“Many colleges in 2021-2022 underestimated how many students they admitted would actually enroll for Fall 2022,” Montgomery said. “Over enrollment can cause strains on the university in a lot of areas. Because of that, many colleges and universities are being more cautious with their early admits for the 2022-2023 application cycle; both [Auburn University and the University of Georgia] are popular schools with ESD students, and their admissions offices have been clear that a defer is not a ‘soft deny.’”

Applying to a college through early decision is binding and your application could be either accepted, denied or deferred, meaning that it will be reviewed again with the regular admissions applicant pool. There is also a difference between early decision, with deadlines in October or November, versus early decision two, and also early action, which allows students to make their decision non-binding.

The reasons for receiving a deferred application may vary: the school may need more time to review applications in an effort to build a diverse, well-rounded class, or they may want to monitor your performance throughout the rest of senior year.

I’d say the college admissions process is very stressful and overwhelming, but I think it all works out in the end according to plan.

Olivia DeYoung

Another factor is that many early decision applications are extremely well done, and colleges do not want to reject an application that normally would have gotten in during regular decisions.

“I think the increase in deferrals has also changed as time has gone on,” DeYoung said. “For example, my brother graduated in 2020, and he got into the school that I got deferred from, while his GPA was a full point below mine.”

Senior Billy Bryan believes receiving a deferral is not the end of the road, and there are still steps to take if you would like to continue to pursue getting into that college.

“People treat deferrals as if they’ve been rejected from the college,” Bryan said. “Which isn’t always true. I mean, it’s not the best outcome, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world like people make it out to be. All the deferral does is move me from early action to regular admissions.”

DeYoung agrees that there are still options to take in pursuing your interest in the college you got deferred from.

“I think definitely emailing is good, showing your interest and telling them that it’s still your number one,” DeYoung said. “I think too much is good in that case. Anything you can do to show you’re interested and also sending in your first semester grades senior year to keep them updated.”

Now more than years prior, admissions rates have become truly daunting statistics for many applicants looking to attend elite public universities. An analysis of enrollment data at 18 elite public universities by The Hill, an American newspaper and digital media company based in Washington, D.C., found an average admission rate of 31 percent in 2022, down from 47 percent in 2012 and 52 percent in 2002 for all applications. 

For instance, the University of California in Los Angeles and Berkeley admitted only 9 percent and 11 percent of applicants.

The University of California colleges, specifically, have grown in attraction in recent years, partially due to their picturesque setting but also because of their recent decision to go test-optional.

Another development that has become more widespread in recent years is colleges going test-optional, meaning an applicant has the choice of whether or not to include their SAT or ACT scores in their application.

Colleges did this for numerous pre-and-post pandemic reasons: one being the wish to eliminate the pressure to produce perfect SAT or ACT scores and allow a greater opportunity to focus on pursuing interests, courses and activities that match students’  interests and are likely to continue in college.

“Test optional has been around for many years pre-pandemic,” Montgomery said. “But became much more popular with colleges and universities as a result of students not having consistent access to be able to test during the height of the pandemic and worldwide shutdown.”

As well as this, GPA is allegedly a better predictor of college success than standardized testing, but that can fail to take into account how GPAs from different schools vary..

Both DeYoung and Bryan, though, appreciated colleges giving the option whether or not to submit their scores and believe they are not a good measure of a student’s performance.

“I had a lot of trouble with testing,” DeYoung said. “The ACT declined me for an extended time because they said my grades were too good. Then I switched to the SAT, and it was just all kind of a hectic process, and I’m not a very good test taker. So I ended up doing all that work and not even submitting my test scores.”

“I do like the test-optional choice for colleges,” Bryan said. “But like I said, situationally, because it also depends on what other parts of your application look like.”

As there is no solid rubric for evaluating students, eliminating the SAT and ACT scores could make the process even more biased towards those with good letters of recommendation or expensive extracurriculars, possibly swaying an application to be admitted. Though, focusing on the essay portion of the application could help.

“Essays are an opportunity for you to tell the admissions committee about yourself beyond your grades, test scores or activities,” Montgomery said. “This is where the student’s true voice is on display. Applying test optional will mean that an admissions committee will focus on other parts of your application with more weight. However, the essay is an important part even if you apply test-optional.”

Overall, even with the process of college admissions changing year to year, students try to take advice where they can and cope with the emotions caused by the process.

“I can understand why students feel so emotional and stressed out about the college application process. You spend four years studying, taking on more rigorous classes, while juggling activities, community service, athletics and maintaining social relationships with peers,” Montgomery said. “My advice to students is to be kind to yourselves during the college application process.”

Even with the stress of the process, students may find relief in the final decisions that bring them closer to their new college.

“I’d say the college admissions process is very stressful and overwhelming,” said DeYoung. “But I think it all works out in the end according to the plan. And I think I got lucky too, so I’m happy.”

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