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Will 2020 Deferrals Affect Fall 2021 Admissions?


The pandemic has changed the college application experience in substantial ways, including the fact that more schools than ever are test optional (not requiring an SAT or ACT score), at least for the time being.

With regular admission decisions beginning to trickle in, the usual mood of suspense and tension is heightened as many students and their families wonder if the 2020 deferrals (students accepted in the last round who opted to postpone the start of college) will affect the number of spots available for the current applicant pool.

While this will vary from school to school, the general consensus is that there’s no cause for concern; 2020 deferrals are not likely to have a huge impact on this year's acceptance rates.

In fact, the number of students who chose to defer their enrollment is actually smaller than one might think, with many students opting instead for alternative paths such as apprenticeships.

What's Happening at the Colleges?

Pandemic deferrals and gap years haven’t just affected students; colleges are suffering, too. 

Most colleges had a difficult year financially, with decreased enrollment and constant adjustments to their teaching models putting significant strain on budgeting. The need to build coronavirus testing capacity and provide resources to keep students and faculty healthy has come with a steep price tag.

The financial and enrollment concerns colleges faced in 2020–21 may encourage many of them to increase their class sizes for incoming students in 2021–22. Admissions professionals are not anticipating a drop in acceptance rates and expect to see an increase in enrollment during this next year.

Applications Are Some Schools

This may make your student worry that the chances of them getting into a particular school is lessened. But as is often the case, the news pays an outsized amount of attention to what's happening at a small number of elite schools (the Ivies, etc.).

It's true that at these institutions, both Early Action/Decision and Regular Decision applications were up this cycle — most likely because removing the SAT/ACT score requirement encouraged a larger pool of applicants. In contrast, at many other schools around the country application numbers were down.

Schools are always gambling when it comes to how many spots to offer not knowing what trends will impact “yield.” Some predict that gap years will remain popular next year. Many students have had a rocky time and may want to wait until they feel extra certain they can have a high quality college experience — plus be sure they’re ready for it.

With all the enrollment unpredictability, one expert predicts, “all but the most highly selective colleges will hedge their bets and open the doors wider. The less selective the school, the farther open the door will swing.”

Some highly selective schools may expand their use of waiting lists. But in general, it may be a "buyer's market," with schools eager to fill seats.

News flash: Some universities have announced that they will delay releasing regular decisions by a week or more this spring.

Click here for a list of regular decision notification dates (alpha by school name) >

How Can My Student Be Sure Their Application Was Strong Enough?

It’s important to remember that all the schools are taking pandemic-related challenges into consideration as they review applications from this year's high school seniors, whether it’s the fact that internships and extracurricular activities got cancelled or SAT/ACT test dates never happened. Everybody is going through similar struggles, so admissions requirements necessarily look different this time around.

Whether your student was able to submit a test score or not, their application will be reviewed as a reflection of who they are and their accomplishments. At the end of the day, colleges and universities are looking for adaptable and well-adjusted candidates to join their student body. We all have very little control over the cards we’re dealt (these days especially!); what matters most is how we handle things and how we adapt to changing circumstances.

As schools decide who will receive offers of admission, ultimately it's about the quality rather than the quantity of the applicants. If your student applied to schools that are good fit, they should remain confident they’ll receive offers of admission.

It's hard not to be nervous right now, but you can remind your student to have faith in themselves. As they wait for news from the schools, they can congratulate themselves on how hard they've worked to get to this point of their high school career and on their applications. Most of all, encourage them to enjoy these last few months of high school — they've earned it.

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