Column | Jan. 12
“3,042 students, or 78.9 percent, deferred in third year of U.’s early action program.”
That should have been The Daily Princetonian’s headline on Dec. 16, as that was the real, interesting story regarding Princeton’s undergraduate early action admissions. Instead, the ‘Prince’ article focused on the 18.5 percent of early applicants, 714 students, who were admitted, representing only a 0.2 percent increase from last year. That statistic isn’t a surprise at all. Moreover, Princeton falls into the middle of the pack for early admit rates among other Ivies and selective universities. Stanford admitted 10.8 percent, Yale 15.5 percent and Harvard 21 percent.
But Princeton only denied 49 early admit students, less than 1.3 percent of early applicants, banishing the vast majority of the high school seniors who applied early to college-admission purgatory for another four months. Having been in that position last year, I empathize with the frustration these high school seniors must feel. It’s no fun being in limbo — and the letter you receive provides no clues as to whether you really have a chance of getting in. It merely states that you are being thrown back into the pool of regular-decision applicants to be judged yet again. And when you look at Princeton’s numbers this year, you really feel like being deferred indicates nothing. It doesn’t suggest you have a good chance of being admitted during regular decision, as there is no way they can admit everyone later. Last year Princeton only accepted 1,931 students overall, including those admitted early.
It’s time for Princeton to recognize that its admission policies do not only affect those admitted but also the thousands of students who apply and are deferred. These deferred students cannot move on and start getting excited about other schools either, as being deferred leaves the slim hope your top choice might still accept you. Understanding this reality, Princeton should limit the number of students deferred during early action decisions to those who really have a decent chance of being admitted come regular decision admissions, especially given the decreasing overall admission rate due to a larger applicant pool for a similar amount of spots.
A reasonable policy still defers students, but not almost 79 percent. Part of the aim of admissions is to accept the students needed to yield a diverse class that fills the needed roles. Who knows if a better trombonist will apply regular decision, so it might be best to put one on hold from the early pool. Reality demands for some students to be deferred so the University can have some flexibility in molding the class during regular admissions.
But deferring students at the rate Princeton is doing seems far from necessary. The fact that many peer institutions are not doing the same suggests just that. Stanford was notorious for giving students from my high school a straight answer in December. Students were almost always accepted or denied. Current statistics suggest that this is true nationwide for Stanford, as its December 2013 deferral rate was only 8.5 percent. Yale’s and Harvard’s 2013 deferral rates are fairly high, coming in at 57.6 percent and 68.1 percent, respectively, but they are still lower than Princeton’s deferral rate at almost 79 percent.
It would be understandable if the University could provide a legitimate reason for why our deferral rate differs so much from Stanford’s or even Yale’s and Harvard’s, but the school’s given rationale for the low rejection rate doesn’t seem sufficient. According to the ‘Prince,’ when asked why the number of rejections had declined significantly, Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye responded that her office had decided to “give students every benefit of the doubt” and make sure students had a chance to turn in all of their application materials. And it’s true that the problems with the Common Application this year might explain providing some leeway to applicants, but, honestly, most students will not change dramatically from November through March.
Any rationale put forth justifying this policy only seems to value the University’s interests — interests that don’t even seem legitimate when you consider that a peer institution like Stanford doesn’t need to employ the same tricks to cultivate a diverse class. And even if there might be some real reasons for the policy, they ignore the young adult on the other end of the message, who doesn’t know whether to celebrate or cry. And given the statistics at a highly selective university like Princeton, the student likely won’t get in. Deferral makes being satisfied with your second or third choice that much harder in the spring. Unless absolutely necessary, Princeton shouldn’t subject students to that agony. And for at least some of the 3,042 deferred students this winter, it probably wasn’t necessary.
Plus, just think how badly this policy makes the 49 denied students feel.
Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.