Just six days ago, prospective students submitted their applications for admission to IMSA. The prompts stayed largely the same; they were asked to craft a mathematical formula for success and discuss a potential scientific endeavor to pursue. However, when the decisions roll in, admitted shmen may notice a missing component on their response sheet: they will no longer have the option to self-defer.
Traditionally, admittees could either accept or deny the offer of admission. For admitted shmen, who are eighth grade applicants who would skip freshman year upon IMSA enrollment, had an additional option: self-deferral. Self-deferral meant that upon receiving a letter of admission, these shmen would be able to decline enrollment to the academy for the next year and opt to spend freshman year at their home schools. This guaranteed them a spot in the following class, during which they could again decide to enroll or decline the offer of admission.
However much IMSA is like a college in terms of academic rigor or on-campus living or its application process, it is still a high school. Particularly for families who have never sent a child to a residential school, many concerns about adjustment rise. Because of these doubts, many would-be IMSA shmen (and students in general) decide not to attend. For this reason, the self-defer option can be appealing. Demonstrated by the nearly unanimous opinion of the interviewed shmen and deferees, the benefits of self-deferring for the admittee is centralized around using freshman year as time for adjusting to high school socially and academically. As Nick Fung ’12 puts, “my middle school did not prepare me academically or mentally to endure the rigorous curriculum that IMSA so proudly boasts.”
Other shmen and deferees expressed concern about the additional stress placed on shmen applicants because of this new admissions policy. Arjit Jaiswal ’15 stated that when he first applied to IMSA, “[he] went all out right away, for one reason- if I made it as an eighth grader and decided to defer, I could relax and not be stressed about it freshman year.” On the other hand, Jacob Kronenberg ’14 observed that “a lot of the people who apply as shmen do so more to become familiar with the application process and to put themselves on IMSA’s radar than to actually get in.” Congruent to views on the additional stress on completing the admissions application, Tim Akintilo ’15 recalls that “I might not have even been allowed to apply to the Academy if not for the ability to defer” and Satya Yerrabolu ’13 suggests that “if this option is removed, then it may deter students [from applying] that are very interested in attending IMSA. From my experience and talking to other students that deferred, I can safely say that we were not very sure what our course of action was going to be if we were accepted in 8th grade.”
Furthermore, retention rates might be affected. With the option to self-defer no longer being offered, shmen who may normally decide to spend a year at traditional high schools may opt to enroll and skip freshman year to guarantee attendance at IMSA. Mindy Jian ’13 described her own experience as a deferee as beneficial: “the year off not only gave me something to compare my IMSA experience to, but also gave me time to think.” Dorcas Huang ’12 resonates with this opinion because “it may be difficult for 8th graders to transition to a residential high school right away. However, by spending a year at a public high school, the transition is easier.” She also discussed the potential effects excluding the self-defer option on acceptance rates. Because there are certain regions like Naperville with higher numbers of applicants and competition is viewed as higher there, she says that the self-defer option might have played a role in increasing the number of admittees from those regions. She recalls her own admissions experience as a deferee: “by allowing 8th graders to defer, it gives some people from areas with a lot of applicants a slightly better chance, as IMSA only accepts a certain number of people from each region. I know that when I applied in 8th grade, Grace [Cao] and I were both accepted and chose to defer. The following year, 10 students from Neuqua were accepted. If me, Grace, and others who chose to defer had not been allowed to, some of those ten students may not have been admitted due to higher competition. Everyone from Neuqua ended up performing highly at IMSA and were admitted to top universities. Therefore, I think that by allowing highly qualified students to defer, it improves the academic level of IMSA.”
Despite these views, it is also evident that IMSA Admissions may be justified in removing the self-defer option in the hopes of increasing yield. Ethan Gordon ‘13 summarizes the differing opinions well: “On one hand, while I was dead set on coming to IMSA as soon as I applied, I can understand how some 8th graders can get second thoughts about leaving home and living here, where pretty much the rest of the crowd is a year or two older. On the other hand, I can see how the admissions department can get extremely frustrated when two thirds of shmen decide to defer, and then only a couple decide to actually enroll.”
Ultimately, the existence of the self-defer option seems to rest on the benefits to admitted students and to IMSA’s stats. Do the interests of the admittees, to be safely admitted with a guarantee of a position and to take freshman year to become better adjusted, outweigh the potential for IMSA to raise its yield in the face of budget cuts and rather unpredictable enrollment rates? Perhaps other compromises exist rather than removing the self-defer option. The IMSA application for admission has been rather static in the past few years; can we update the application to encourage prospective students to be more self-selective? Regardless, it would be beneficial for Admissions to keep the IMSA community informed of these upcoming changes and rationale, which includes both the removal of shmens’ self-deferral option and disappearance of the IMSA Shadow Program.
IMSA community: what are your thoughts? If you disagree with the new policy, what do you suggest as possible solutions?
Prospective students: has this policy influenced your decision to apply as a shmen or regular?
Thanks to Arjit Jaiswal ’15, Grace Cao ’12, Dorcas Huang ’12, Jacob Kronenberg ’14, Satya Yerrabolu ’13, Mindy Jian ’13, Nick Fung ’12, Mohamed Kady ’14, Ethan Gordon ’13, and Tim Akintilo ’15 for their commentary on this new policy.