April 11, 2011
By Seth Zweifler
When John Sampaio was deferred early decision at Penn in mid-December, he lost all hope that he would ever get accepted to his dream school.
So when Sampaio learned on March 30 that he had been admitted regular decision to the College of Arts and Sciences, the news came as a total shock.
“I was completely caught off guard when I went onto the computer and saw my [acceptance] letter,” said Sampaio, a senior at Sleepy Hollow High School in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. “The decision totally blew my mind.”
Sampaio is one of about 1,000 early decision applicants who were deferred for the Class of 2015, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. This year’s early decision deferral number is nearly identical to last year’s count, he added.
With early decision applications up by 18 percent from the Class of 2014’s total, Penn’s decision to accept and defer about the same number of students as last year “naturally meant that we rejected more students in the early round,” Furda said.
In addition to the Admissions Office “having limited time to read through so many applications” in February and March, Furda explained that the University’s early decision trend is due to the fact that “we have a clearer sense of who might succeed in the regular round than we did awhile back.”
While Sampaio’s college preference was clear when he submitted his application to Penn in the fall, his mindset has changed considerably since then.
After he learned of his deferral in December, Sampaio applied to nine other schools. Though it wasn’t easy, he said he resigned himself to the fact that Penn would not work out.
In hindsight, “I definitely saw getting deferred as the same thing as a rejection,” Sampaio said. “I applied early decision because I loved the school and because it’s so much easier to get in if you apply then.”
Sampaio admitted that getting deferred forced him to “put Penn in the back seat” and move on to other college options.
1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus Steven Goodman, an educational consultant at Top Colleges, said Sampaio’s case is fairly common among students who have been deferred early decision.
“It’s like you’ve decided to ask someone to the prom, and all they said was ‘maybe.’ Getting deferred can be very emotionally hurtful,” Goodman said. “The issue of emotional attachment to a school is huge, and students will often fall out of love with their first choice…to cope with any bad news they might receive.”
However, Penn’s numbers over the past few years show that such strong reactions to a deferral may not be necessary after all.
This year, Penn’s regular decision acceptance rate was 9.5 percent. However, more than 10 percent of students who were initially deferred were accepted in the regular round, Furda said.
Sampaio said he had expected that number to be “more like 5 percent,” adding that he sent in follow-up materials to Penn after his application was bumped into regular decision.
1995 Graduate School of Education alumna Ann Selvitelli, director of college counseling at Suffield Academy in Suffield, Conn., said Sampaio’s decision to keep in touch with Penn was a “smart move.”
“Admissions officers want to see a continued interest in the school from those they defer early decision,” Selvitelli said, adding that a deferral “can be very purposeful in that way.”
In early March, Sampaio received a likely letter from Cornell University, which “definitely attracted me to [Cornell] more than ever before,” he said. He is currently considering offers at Cornell and Penn, both of which he plans to visit before he makes a final decision.
For Sampaio, one thing remains clear – getting deferred from Penn made for a far more complicated admissions process than he had originally anticipated.
“Right now, I’d say that I’m leaning 60-40 [percent] in favor of Penn,” he said. “Things didn’t work out at Penn the first time around, but I’m just glad they worked out in the end.”