Dec 21, 2014

Why thousands were deferred this year by the University of Michigan

University of Michigan
At NACAC’s annual conference last fall, University of Michigan Senior Associate Director of Admissions Sally Lindsley directly addressed the issue of early action and what has come to be known as “admissions creep” among professionals dealing with increasing loads of early applications from anxious students  hoping to nail down an admission before the holidays.

Along with panelists representing Boston College, MIT, and Notre Dame, Lindsley expressed concern about pressure to apply early fueled by pre-populated applications, relentless marketing, and what seem to be threatening messages coming from colleges working to generally increase application numbers and get a jump on the competition.

“July and August are the new September,” remarked Phil Trout of Minnetonka High School, who served as the moderator for the NACAC panel.

But Lindsley had a special message for the audience and that was for Michigan, at least, something had to give.  And this year’s early action applicants may be seeing an effort on the part of Michigan admissions to put the brakes on and slow the process down.

Between 1993 and 2007, the University of Michigan operated on a “rolling admission” plan, by which applications were considered as they were received.  

In 2008 and 2009, the program evolved into the “Michigan Way” early response initiative.  If a student applied by October 31, they were guaranteed an admissions decision on or before December 20.

And then, the University of Michigan joined the Common Application in 2010.  Early response went away, and application numbers skyrocket. 

Last year, Michigan drew the largest number of freshman applications to date—49,731.  Early applications alone increased by four percent over the previous year.

Overwhelmed by the numbers, Michigan became very strict about deadlines and routinely rolled some early applications into the regular decision pool.

But worst of all, efforts to project yield and hit enrollment targets were largely unsuccessful.  For fall of 2014, the freshman class was over-enrolled by 307 students for a record-breaking class totaling 6,505—4.5 percent more than the previous year.

“We have been over-enrolling every year for the past five years and we have to stop this,” University Provost Martha Pollack explained to the Michigan Board of Regents, last September.  “I’m not happy about it.”

Speaking candidly to the NACAC audience, Lindsley admitted, “Early action is more of an art than a science.”  And Michigan needed to bring their program under control.

To accomplish this, Lindsley outlined plans to curb over-enrollment which echoed what Pollack presented to the Board of Regents.

Early action admissions would be reduced from about 65% to 37.5% of the applicant pool.  As a result, counselors could expect to see “several thousand” students deferred to regular decision.

“We will be more judicious in what we look for,” explained Lindsley.

It didn’t take long for students and their counselors to see the impact of the change in policy on early admissions to the Michigan Class of 2019.  Within hours of decisions being released, complaints were posted on professional message boards and calls went into the Michigan admissions office.

“Having been a college consultant for close to twenty years, I am amazed by the number of deferrals I have seen not only in my client base, but also just in general,” remarked one east coast adviser.

And as Victoria Tillson Evans, a DC-based independent educational consultant reported, “…the admissions office's call system was apparently overloaded yesterday and my call was kicked off several times.”

In addition to reducing the number of students admitted early, Lindsley warned at NACAC that Michigan would also be making greater use of wait lists to control the flow of admitted students and ultimately get a handle on class size.

In other words, the thousands of applicants deferred because of Michigan’s over-enrollment problem need to fasten their seatbelts and be prepared for a long ride into June.

And considering that other universities, including the University of Virginia, are finding themselves in similar situations, this could be a very long year for admissions.

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