Deferrals (also known as postponements) from the University of Michigan are a common source of frustration. Tens of thousands of students submit applications and supporting materials to UMichigan by the November 1 early action deadline expecting a decision in late December.
Come late December, thousands of EA applicants, some exceptionally qualified, are surprised to learn that their admissions decision has been “postponed” by the University of Michigan until later in the cycle. This situation is also common for applicants to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Postponement is frequently not a reflection of the quality of the applicant’s credentials or a signal that the student will not be admitted later in the cycle. It’s, for the most part, a matter of the admissions being understaffed to handle the high volume.
According to Michigan Admissions, UM starts reading EA applications when they are complete, in the order they are complete (essentially rolling decision, though it’s not called that), and keep reading and accepting/rejecting until they run out of time. Insiders have shared that a large number (more than half) of EA applications to U Michigan are not reviewed by mid-December.
Given Michigan’s policy of reading applications as soon as they’re complete, the timing of everything getting in is crucial to the chances of deferral.
Admission By Design founder, Lynn Lubell, advises students to apply (and have all supporting materials such as scores and recommendations) to UMich by September 15 to boost their chances of the application being read for a late December decision. Those who apply to Michigan after October 15 are typically deferred no matter what. Similar “apply early” advice is helpful for UW-Madison hopefuls. Applying early also sends a signal of keen interest to the university.
Insiders offer additional explanations for U Michigan and U Wisconsin deferrals of qualified candidates, especially those applying from out-of-state. The most common one involves early decision, which UMich and UW-Madison do NOT offer.
The early decision application is a binding contract where, by signing the agreement, a student is committing to enroll at a first-choice institution if accepted and then to immediately withdraw all applications to other schools.
When UMich and UW-Madison defer strong applicants, there is a good chance that the student will be accepted ED elsewhere (to a school they are bound to attend) and will withdraw their pending applications. By deferring the admissions decision, there is a reasonable chance the student will withdraw their application. When calculating selectivity (percent of applicants accepted), most colleges use the total number of applications submitted as the denominator (including those withdrawn) and the number of admitted students (excluding those on the waitlist) as the numerator. The postponement strategy helps reduce the number of accepted students.
Postponement of decisions also enables the admissions staff to get a better gauge of the deferred applicant’s level of interest and engagement. Deferred students, with a high level of interest, often take advantage of opportunities to submit semester grades and statements of continued interest. These can be used by the admissions staff to influence the yield (percent of accepted students who enroll) by giving admissions preference to qualified candidates with a higher perceived chance of enrolling and using the waitlist as a tool to reduce admission offers to students who are considered less likely to attend.