Dec. 15 approached like Judgment Day for Rebecca and Katie, two seniors at Hopkins School in New Haven. But when the decisions came, neither found they had much cause for concern.
In December, high school seniors around the country found out their admissions decisions from the early round of college applications. Whether a student applied early because the school had always been her top choice or because she saw admissions as a strategy game, years of planning came down to the question of fat, thin or medium: accepted, rejected or deferred. Students in the latter two categories had to rebound quickly to prepare a fresh round of regular-decision applications by the next January deadlines, and they remain in limbo about their academic futures until April.
When the first article in this series came out in December, Rebecca and Katie were counting down the weeks to the decision they thought might make or break their futures.
Two months ago, Rebecca was accepted early decision to the Double-Degree Program between Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Although she was not granted a hoped-for audition at the Juilliard School, the award-winning flutist is now preparing to audition for the lesson exchange program with the Manhattan School of Music next month.
Katie was deferred from the University of Pennsylvania, which will review her application again along with the applicants who applied regular decision, reaching a verdict in early April. She faced the daunting task of spending her winter vacation compiling the rest of her college applications, which she admitted she had mostly kept on hold until she heard from Penn. Although most of the deadlines were Jan. 1, some were spread throughout the month, and she was able to send off applications to Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Vassar, McGill Colgate, and Franklin and Marshall universities.
Rebecca admitted that she had been unprepared for a rejection, so when the acceptance letter arrived in the mail a few torturous days late, relief flooded over her.
“I would have spent my entire vacation writing essays, since I had sent out maybe two other applications and hadn’t looked at any of the supplements, so basically I would have been screwed,” she said. “I had talked to my parents about taking a day or two just to recuperate and mourn a little, then move on.”
Katie said she was “crushed” after finding out about her deferral on Penn’s admissions Web site. At school, she said, the tension was building for a couple weeks before the decisions, especially among Hopkins’s competitive, high-achieving student body. But when the moment finally came, Katie said, the speed of the digital age almost made the occasion anticlimactic.
“It’s so weird finding out at a computer,” she said. “I just hit the Enter button and there it was, just … oh.”
Katie said a flurry of tactful phone calls were made that night among other early applicants, their friends and various other interested parties.
“You can’t just call the person you want to find out about, you have to call your friends and see if they know anything,” she said.
This year, Penn accepted 29 percent of its 4,001 early applications. Statistics for the JTS program were unavailable.
The Hopkins School, where 65 percent of seniors applied early this year, has not yet published the number of its students who were admitted early, but Katie said “a lot got deferred, a fair amount got in, and only a couple got rejected.” Last year, 55 percent of Hopkins early applicants were accepted.
Both girls now face the question of what to do next.
Rebecca is applying to do a senior project through Hopkins, which would allow her to drop all her current classes and teach at the Jewish elementary school Ezra Academy in Woodbridge. Although she would still take her Advanced Placement exams in May and would stop by Hopkins whenever she had a chance, she said that her plan is a fairly non-traditional approach to the usually stress-free last term of senior year. But Rebecca, who admitted last fall to being in the midst of a “year of hell,” said she plans to take advantage of her settled future plans.
“I’m not the kind of person who’s going to say ‘I’m into college so I’m going to let my work slide and get C’s in all my classes,’” she said. “But I definitely have a much more relaxed attitude, and I’m not as stressed out.”
Katie, whose mother called her guidance counselor the day after she was deferred to talk about Penn’s decision, said she has had the support of her parents in the second round of applications, particularly in determining how to improve her chances of being admitted to Penn in April.
“I’m going to write a letter to my regional [admissions committee representative] and the dean of admissions, telling them that although I was disappointed to be deferred, it’s still my first choice,” Katie said.
Admissions consultants said these are appropriate steps for students to take under these circumstances.
Michele Hernandez, president and founder of Hernandez College Consulting, said she recommends that students deferred early make sure that the school has all required materials or information, especially new awards or test scores. In addition, she said, it is a good idea to find out the reasons behind the deferral, if possible.
“Have your high school call the school on your behalf and ask to speak to an admissions officer to find out why you were deferred,” Hernandez said. “Make sure all the nuts and bolts are there: your midyear report and any follow-up materials. Just make your file as complete as possible, but there’s no magic cure.”
For Rebecca, the course of action is simpler, but still requires balance, said Ellen White, a college essay specialist in San Rafael, Calif. After the first rush of excitement, accepted students should make sure they continue to perform up to their schools’ academic standards, she said, although they can also relax more and engage in activities like travel and language study in their newfound free time.
“You were accepted because you’ve been challenging yourself all along, so you have to continue being consistent and you have to work up to your best ability,” White said. “We encourage kids to take full advantage of their senior year and finally let down a little bit and enjoy what’s left of the year, but don’t forget that letting down all the way is not the answer.”
Rebecca, who has been perusing Barnard’s course catalog and sporting a Barnard sweatshirt, said the fever over college applications has not passed yet at Hopkins, although December’s intense level of pressure has mostly diminished.
“People still talk about college a lot, but everybody’s apps are in for the most part, so they’re not really as concerned about finishing them, which was a huge stress,” she said.
Katie said she is relieved to have her applications out so she can focus on her other activities.
“I’m much more relaxed,” she said. “I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m also trying to be cautious, more so than I was before. But I can’t worry about it, because whatever happens is going to happen, and I can’t change it.”
The third article in this series will be published after regular decisions are announced in April.