A Deluge of Deferrals—The Role COVID Played in the Early Action Cycle

By Elizabeth LaScala PhD

When the pandemic first hit, many worried that applications for admission would decrease in much the same way as enrollment numbers dropped. However, the opposite occurred and this past early cycle results show applications are up, in some cases dramatically so. Due to this increase in demand, many otherwise qualified students found themselves deferred to the regular admissions cycle.

Why has this occurred? One expert suggests that most of the early action/early decision deferrals can be contributed to the deluge of digital recruitment strategies, including virtual information sessions, tours, and student panels. College advisor, Lisa Bleich, calls colleges ‘marketing machines’ whose efforts to connect with students on social media resulted in unparalleled awareness of schools that students otherwise would not have thought were within their reach—in turn this stimulated greater numbers of applications.

I would amend the social media hypothesis to add that digital strategies increased the perception of college access rather than actual access and led many students and their families to overestimate their chances of admission. If schools were needier, many reasonably figured that they would be more likely to admit qualified, or even somewhat less qualified students. This assumption was wrong.

Added to this thinking was the tendency to believe that the increase in chances of admission applied across the board, even to the most selective schools. Thus, the biggest rises in applications were directly proportional to the selectivity of the colleges, and so were the deferral (and denial) rates. It seems that the most selective schools, often among the wealthiest, had the greatest resources to weather the pandemic storm, while maintaining their high standards for admission.

What should a deferred student do who still hopes to be considered during the regular admission cycle? First, remember that being deferred means the college is still interested enough in you to consider your application. If you’ve been working hard academically and maintained your extracurricular involvement, I recommend writing a Letter of Continued Interest. Here are some tips:

1. Keep your letter short, upbeat, and polite.

2. Focus on relevant updates to your application. Highlight specific achievements like improved test scores, better grades, or a recent award. If you applied as a finance major and you transformed a B in calculus to an A, tell them, since it is relevant to the school and your proposed major.

3. Send supplemental materials that support your updates only if the school accepts them.

4. Follow their rules. If they originally asked for two letters of recommendation, do not send them a third.

My recommended word limit for your letter is 300. By comparison, this article is 450 words. It is too long for a letter of Continued Interest. Colleges have your application, so avoid repetition. Get your point across and be done!

Now more than ever, a college education is an essential first step toward a fulfilling career. I am an expert at college matching and have made it my business to stay up to date and informed on the dramatic and ever-changing impact COVID-19 is having on higher education. Staying current and compassionate are critical to providing my students and their families with the information they need for wise decision-making. I encourage you to contact me now for a courtesy consultation.