As many people know, our decisions for our Early Action process just went online yesterday.
While some people are very happy at the news, as admissions counselors our heart does break at the applicants that don’t receive good news. We realize this is a difficult process to understand and for many students, this may be the first time they have not gotten what they think they deserve.
I thought I would explain a little more in-depth on how we make our decisions and demystify what “being deferred” means at JMU.
“Defer” doesn’t mean “Deny” at JMU.
At JMU, we have two different admissions processes that people can apply for freshman admission. We have an Early Action process, which is non-binding, and a Regular Decision process.
We always get questions from students on whether or not they should apply for Early Action. My answer is typically to encourage people to apply early since it is a possible benefit to hear early about their decision in January rather than waiting until the end of March. However, there are some students that are concerned that if they don’t get in early, they will feel rejected and hurt.
At JMU, the Early Action process is much more competitive. The pool for our Early Action process usually contains our highest-achieving students. Each year, we have typically received more and more applications during this Early Action process. This year, we received 1200 more Early Action applications than the previous year. Since we don’t know how many people are going to apply for Regular Decision, we are very cautious (and probably more so this year) with our decisions.
I have heard other colleges that use a different approach to their Early Action or Early Decision processes. At some schools, they use the same criteria for Early Action/Early Decision and their Regular Decision processes. For these schools, if they aren’t admitted early, I can understand the anxiety that would create. Some schools one of the two processes is harder and one of the two is easier. Again, at JMU we will use higher criteria for who we will offer admission to in this Early Action stage. That also means that we typically will lower the bar slightly for our Regular Decision process.
Of course, we can’t predict the qualifications of all of the students that may apply later, but this has held true for the last several years.
We do deny admission to some students that apply Early Action. Those students are ones that we feel would not be competitive during our Regular Decision process. Rather than keeping them hanging on until the end of March, we do cut those students loose from our pool. There is still a chance of admission as long as you weren’t denied admission.
Receiving notice that you are deferred isn’t like Dante’s Inferno where the sign to Hell read “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. There can still be hope for our Regular Decision process.
How and why was this decision made?
We will typically offer admission to the “cream of the crop” students during the Early Action process. Most of our decisions are based on two primary components – the strength of students’ curriculum and their grades in their core courses of English, math, foreign language, lab science, and social sciences. We realize that every school offers different courses and some have more opportunities than others. However, I would say that from most schools we typically do expect some college-level coursework (AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment coursework) and several Honors-level courses throughout their high school years. For our Early Action process, we will also want to see almost all As & Bs on their transcript. We don’t look at a GPA number, because high schools calculate GPA very differently based on grading scales, the weight of Honors courses, etc. The next thing we will consider are SAT/ACT scores.
Typically, if any of these areas are slightly below what we would like to see, those students would probably be deferred to our Regular Decision pool. So, if students had many Cs or a D on their transcript, if their coursework seemed to be not challenging enough, or if their SAT/ACT scores fell a little lower than we would like, we will likely defer those students to Regular Decision.
You’ll note that I didn’t mention anything about extracurricular activities, letters of recommendations, and personal statements. We do take a holistic approach in our review, but those things will likely not play as heavily into our Early Action process. These are things that we will review that will make us want to fight for the applicant. This could play out for a student that is “on the bubble” for admission, but their curriculum and grades will need to be at a certain level before these things can enter into the equation.
Apples and Oranges
We realize it is only natural for students that are admitted to boast about their acceptance. They may wear their JMU sweatshirt to school the next day. Students will then compare themselves with others that are accepted. “That person had a lower SAT score than I did” or “They have a lower GPA than I do?”. Due to the weighting of courses, you never can say that all 4.0 GPAs are created equal. A 4.0 GPA could mean that a person hasn’t taken any weighted courses and received straight As or it could mean that they have taken almost Honors/AP courses and received all Bs and maybe some Cs. Or it could be something in between. As admissions counselors, we closely analyze the transcript and really look at the courses and the grades. We also look only at a student within the context of their high school. We can’t compare students from different schools. Unless you can compare all the factors by analyzing transcripts, SAT reports, etc., leave the comparisons to us. We do check and double-check all of our decisions within a committee to make sure we are making decisions that make the most sense based on the criteria we are using.
What are my chances for Regular Decision?
This is a question that we just can’t answer. Again, we don’t know what the applicant pool will look like for the Regular Decision process. I feel that some people would love to hear a percentage number of 32% or 65% of those deferred are offered admission for Regular Decision. However, what they really want to know is what is my chance. As I mentioned above, we do usually get a higher quality of applications during the Early Action process. For many, they will rise above the applicant pool that we receive for Regular Decision and be offered admission. For others, they may not and could be looking at being offered a space on our waitlist or being denied admission.
What else can I do?
We realize that JMU is a popular school and for many students, we are your first choice of where you would want to attend. I have sat on admissions panels and have heard colleges state that you should send an update to that school and add more things to your application so they can see your interest.
At JMU, this is not needed. The only other thing that we want to be added to your application are mid-year grades. We require schools to send these once they are available. This is another piece of information that we can use during our Regular Decision process. They do make a difference in many cases. A student that is “on the bubble” for admissions based on their transcript but has pulled off straight As his/her senior year can be helped with great performance. Adversely, a student afflicted with “senioritis” and lots of Cs in his/her senior year can be affected in a negative way. For anyone that is deferred, we will look at your application again with anyone that applied during the Regular Decision pool.
So, I encourage students to continue to work hard to help their chances in the Regular Decision pool. Just take a deep breath.
If there are any general questions about this for discussion, please leave a comment below. Any student-specific questions should complete the “Decision Inquiry Form” found on our website.