What to do if you get waitlisted, deferred, or denied…

I first posted most of this information in December last year, and it has proved to be one of the most popular posts on the site, so it seemed timely to share once more.

When it comes down to it, no admissions decision is really final, but your investment of time and energy may vary widely depending on which letter you receive.

Being deferred is generally an indication that your record is borderline for admission, and the admissions office wants to see some portion of your senior year grades and/or more recent test scores before making a decision.  In that case you want to get your grades and scores as high as possible.  You may also want to send a note to the office letting them know that you are really interested and that the school is your first choice, if that’s the case.  You don’t need to send any other supplemental information unless the school asks for it, or unless there is something significantly different/new.  So what is significant?  Say you never sent them a copy of your garage band’s really sweet track – that’s probably not helpful unless you’re a PHENOMENAL musician AND applying to a music program (and even then it might never get a listen). On the other hand, say you win a Nobel Prize – any Nobel prize will do – that’s likely something you should share with the admissions officers.  You really can’t appeal a decision to defer, since it’s not really a decision so much as a post-poning of your decision.

If you get denied, you are unlikely to change the decision unless you believe the admissions committee made a huge mistake (if your name is John Smith and you a have a 4.0 and perfect SAT’s, are valedictorian, and won a Nobel Prize, but were denied by your local junior college, you have a reasonable chance that there’s been some confusion with your file).  It is possible that there is something the committee missed, overlooked, or just didn’t know. You can, at most institutions, appeal your decision, although very few institutions announce this or even mention it.  If you wish to do so, you can send a letter to the Director of Admissions asking for a review, but I encourage you to consider whether you have any new information to offer.  If there is nothing new to consider, and unless that new information is really compelling, it’s unlikely the school will change their decision.

Waitlisted  – also known as purgatory or limbo.  I suggest, sort of like deferred, you do your best to get your grades and scores up if you can, and send a note saying just how much you want that school.  Some students try to appeal waitlist decisions, but I’ve found, often as not, that this pulls them out of waitlist consideration and into an appeals process, which is unlikely to be successful, and may even hurt your chances on the waitlist.  Some schools offer waitlist interview opportunities – you should TAKE THEM.  No one is opposed to a little in person begging and groveling, given the opportunity.

The hardest thing to do is not to be miserable over a less than positive admission decision.  Too often students tell me that their lives have been RUINED by the stupid decisions of some admission committee.  Please, don’t give them (or even me) that much power. One mom complained that I just didn’t know her daughter as well as she did.  Right. That would be because she is…wait for it…not my daughter.  All colleges like to talk about how personally we treat you, but at the end of the day admissions officers are making decisions about your life without spending much, if any, time with you. They only have what’s on paper (or the screen), and maybe a fwe minutes from an intereview, and that is NOT YOU.  There are 4,000 colleges and universities in the country and MANY will be great for you.  Don’t let a bunch of people you never met be decision makers about your feelings of self-worth.  They don’t know YOU, just a bunch of numbers. And yes, some might even make stupid decisions. 

Of course, it’s likely that Mason IS the perfect school for you (because we’re just that good), but wherever you get admitted, bear this in mind:  As of the last big Department of Education study, 60% of all students in higher education attend more than one institution. Translation – hundreds of thousands of students transfer each year.  The U.S. has the greatest community and junior college system in the world. Don’t be afraid to pick one as a great place to start.  Be seeing you.


New update on tuition and aid

Last week I was on a panel for the Educational Policy Institute presenting to a large number of muckety mucks about what the new presidential administration is proposing and could do regarding access and affordability for higher education. Now I’m sitting in Florida (where it’s bizarrely chilly) at the ACT meeting of state representatives hearing from colleagues on the issue of the economic impact on enrollment. I’m working on a more detailed research brief on the whole issue, but in the meantime, a few thoughts:
1) Lots of schools are very aggressively responding to the economic downturn – some by actually cutting back on enrollment. Very brave (or crazy, or both) Middlebury came out and said they might cut financial aid, among other things. Note: most places say they won’t touch aid at all, even though saying so doesn’t keep them from changing their aid levels.
2) My colleagues aren’t yet seeing difficulty with students getting student loans, but lots of anecdotes about students not able to access other loans (home mortgage, for instance) and lots more traffic at everyone’s financial aid offices.
3) The current stimulus package proposals aren’t likely to make much of a difference. A few more students might get a bit more money, but no one appears to get a windfall, and many schools will manipulate their funding formula so that they spend less, but the student doesn’t get anymore. To really make a difference, the administration needs to take a whack at REALLY fixing the system, not just throwing money down the well.
4) Most schools are expecting to increase tuition. Most plan to increase aid at the same time. They are panicked you won’t pick them this year, which may offer you the upper hand in some cases.

Here’s my take: college is a good investment. At the same time, I don’t think it’s always worth what anyone might pay – if you’re planning a career in a traditionally low income field, and you pick one of the most expensive schools in the country and fund it all with loans, you are, to put it delicately, kind of a ding dong.

Colleges and universities talk about “right fit” all the time. Yes, I think you should pick schools that fit, but I think there are so many schools that you can have good fit without breaking the bank. All self serving aside, that doesn’t mean you should just apply to the least expensive school, since very expensive schools may offer very generous aid. It does mean, however, that you shouldn’t get your heart stuck on the most expensive school until you find out what kind of money they might (MIGHT) offer (did I mention that Mason was the only school in the D.C. area listed on Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s best values lists?).

One last caution: If you pick a really expensive school based on a very pretty financial aid package, make sure the package level (assuming no major change in your finances) won’t shift dramatically in your second year. A few schools have realized they have a second opportunity to mess with you, by manipulating your financial aid package lower in your second (or third) year. Most schools avoid this since they run the risk that some students will just transfer out rather than paying the higher rate, but that doesn’t stop others from trying.

Finally – don’t panic. There’s lots of evidence that there will be lots of funds for college – so far most student loans are still being made, and many colleges are sufficiently worried about enrollment that they are digging deeper to provide more financial aid, at least for the time being. And again, in general college is still one of the best investments you can make (especially now!). Be seeing you.