Northwestern’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions adopted a new early decision policy starting with the class of 2013, allowing applicants to be deferred to regular decision when applying early. Under the old policies, applicants were either rejected or accepted outright.
Students who get deferred and later admitted do not have the binding commitment of early decision. Deferred early decision applicants receive their decisions at the end of March like the regular decision applicants, and though their status is equal to that of regular decision applicants in most ways, the university will not waitlist any of the deferred students.
According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christopher Watson, the old policy didn’t take enough information into account when considering early decision applications.
“We were making decisions without what I felt was important information. It felt like more of a guess, and it didn’t seem fair to the applicant,” Watson said.
Most of this important information was mid-senior year grades – particularly if it was the applicant’s first time in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other advanced classes.
In the first year of the policy, the admissions office deferred only a small percentage of the early applicants. Of the 1712 students who applied early last year, approximately 60 students were deferred. Of those 60, roughly half were later accepted.
“From what I understand, Northwestern was the only school with an admit or deny policy,” Watson said.
Of the top 15 national universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report, Northwestern was in fact the only one to employ a firm yes-or-no policy in early applications. In 2006, Harvard and Princeton completely removed early application possibilities with a similar reasoning to Northwestern’s in altering the policy. With the addition of Northwestern, the other 13 all offer either early decision or early action options through which applicants can be accepted, deferred or denied.
A main difference between Northwestern and the other schools is the rate of deferral. Whereas Northwestern only deferred about 3.5 percent of its early applicants, Yale deferred 47 percent and only outright denied 38 percent last year. Other schools choose to see how early applicants actually compare to the rest of the regular decision pool, while Northwestern chooses to wait for more information on a student before giving a definitive answer.
“The only reason you would be deferred is if we don’t feel we have enough information, most likely academic information, to render a final decision,” Watson said. “It’s pretty straightforward– no games or anything.”