Why Were There So Many Deferrals This Year?

“Isn’t the admissions office closed during winter break?” I asked my daughter who works for the admissions office of her college.

“No, they’re still open for virtual tours.”

When the pandemic first hit, everyone predicted that applications would decrease similar to enrollment numbers. But in fact, at the most select schools, the opposite has occurred. Below are some reasons why. 

  • Pivot to virtual. Colleges pivoted to virtual information sessions, tours, and student panels. These digital recruitment platforms had a much broader reach.
  • Increased presence on social media. Colleges became marketing machines with ongoing efforts to connect with students through Instagram, Tik Tok, one-on-one Zoom calls, etc.  
  • Increased awareness led to increased applications. These efforts created unprecedented access and awareness of schools that many students would not have felt were within their reach in the past.  
SchoolClass of 2025 Increase in Applications from Previous Year
Dartmouth 29%
Harvard57% !!!!
University of Georgia27%
University of Pennsylvania23%
  • Test optional policies lowered the barrier.  The percentage of students who submitted test scores this year through ED ranged from a low of 27% at Cornell to 68% at Penn. Colleges had no choice but to rely on other factors to make their decisions.
  • Yield protection. You may be shaking your head if you or someone you know got deferred from their “safety”.  This is more and more the trend as colleges do not want to admit students they know will unlikely attend.  
  • Biden’s election.  With a new impending president, international applications rose at many institutions. Tufts reported that their international applications rose 30% and most were submitted after the election. 
  • Uncertainty goes both ways. Since students are living in uncertain times, many figured, why not apply to more schools to increase our chances. And why not reach high since “you never know!”

Unfortunately, increased applications also led to an increase in deferrals at the top schools.  Below is College Kick Starter’s blog post that links to data from numerous schools.

Knowing why doesn’t necessarily assuage the sting of getting deferred or denied, but hopefully, it gives you pause to realize that it is not a reflection on you or your application. It’s important to move forward and finish the rest of our regular decision applications and make sure your list is balanced and not top heavy.  

Check out our post on what to do if you were deferred. 

Showing 4 comments
  • Judi Robinovitz

    Well done! Thanks for sharing. I think this will help a few of my students who were deferred st top-tier schools as well as the one “safety“ to just understand some of the rationale behind these difficult decisions.

    • Lisa Bleich

      You’re welcome. This year is so tough for students who have worked so hard under trying circumstances.

  • Jessie Peck Martin, M.Ed.

    Lisa, this is incredibly helpful. Thanks for doing this legwork and sharing – my kiddos have been deferred at Harvard and UGA while they’ve had incredible success with my ED kids this year, for example, Colby, Carnegie Mellon, and Tulane. As astronaut Mark Watley says, “Do the math!”*

    *reference from the book and subsequent film, The Martian

  • Michelle Humbach

    Thank you for the great piece. Shared!

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