Why have acceptance rates been decreasing?

Deferred at Michigan? You’re not alone

Every year it seems like flagship universities (the most well-known school in a state) in the midwest are getting harder to get into. The annual University of Michigan decision day rolls around, and the early action acceptances seem to get fewer and fewer. Why is this?

This phenomenon isn’t unique to just Michigan but is happening to every Big Ten school, notably the University of Wisconsin as well. One thing that sets them apart, however, is the way in which they handle early action applications that aren’t accepted.

“Of the 130 kids that applied to Michigan, 28 were accepted, one person removed their application on their own and the rest were deferred,” Michelle Burkey, a guidance counselor for the school, said.

The extreme number of deferrals can pose problems for prospective students, who can end up getting stuck in a sort of limbo – not sure if they should move on and make other plans. 

“From our perspective, we feel like there are students that should just be a no versus a deferment to encourage them to make other plans to look elsewhere,” Burkey said.

Those who want to keep pursuing Michigan have an avenue to explore, though.

“Writing a statement of continued interest and being thoughtful with that response about what [the prospective student’s] hoping to do on that college campus is super helpful, and the earlier you get it in, the better off you’re going to be. Another thing that kids could consider doing if they didn’t submit test scores the first time, is going back and submitting them now,” Burkey said.

But why is it so hard all of a sudden? Since the pandemic, larger schools have had an uptick in applications.

“The number of applications that they are seeing is up across the board. Both Michigan and Wisconsin had over 55,000 applications each, so when we talk about colleges, obviously they only have a certain number of spots, and so more applications means more deferrals and rejections,” Burkey said.

Another factor that contributes to this is the test-optional policy that’s become increasingly popular since the pandemic.

“In the past, a student that had a lower test score may have immediately said ‘I’m not gonna apply to Michigan, I don’t meet that criteria.’ But now that’s not the case,” Burkey said.

For other Big Ten schools, however, students have another hurdle to jump for acceptance: state laws and regulations.

“I think the other piece that’s not super well known is the rules and regulations those state universities have to follow from the legislature that a certain number of acceptances have to go to in-state students.  So it’s not a surprise that our Wisconsin [rejection and deferral] numbers are higher because they’re trying to serve in-state students,” Burkey said.

Being at East, however, puts you in a good position to have success in your applications.

“East is well known in the Midwest for creating that college-going culture and having kids that are ready for college-level material. I think we do a good job of getting our students ready for that next step,” Burkey said.

Lindsey Katzman ‘23 puts her success partially down to submitting her test scores, but Nathan Rose ‘23 made a point to say that he didn’t.

“If students are looking at ‘top-tier’ schools, say U of M, submitting a score may be beneficial. ‘Reach’ schools are incredibly competitive, and submitting a test score gives the school another data point of information about students. If a student is scoring at or above our school average (SAT 1141), it’s a good idea to submit. As always, students are encouraged to have a personal conversation with their counselor. We are happy to help navigate individual situations,” Burkey said.

One thing for students to keep in mind throughout college decision season, though, is that success is available anywhere, and not to get caught up in how that prestigious school looks on a decision day post.