Advice on Foregoing Planned Freshman Year and Reapplying to Colleges

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I was getting ready to move into my college (where I not only deposited but also paid all of my fall tuition) and they announced classes will now be online and campus is closed. I am a dance major and so virtual school won't work for me. So I am hoping now to just defer but it looks like my scholarship may not be guaranteed if I defer (although my spot will be guaranteed). So I'm thinking of just pulling out of this school, getting my money back, and then applying to college this fall all over again. So my question is, do I have to do the entire applications over like I did last year? Or is there a quicker way since I already sent out 30 applications last fall? Also, if a college rejected me last year, can I apply there again this year, or does a rejection last for more than one cycle?

First of all, do you know for sure that you can get your money back? For many colleges, a full refund is available before late August or early September, but policies vary widely. Although this isn't the question you're asking, it's an important starting point.

As for redoing your applications ... you don't say if you used the Common Application for all or for many of your target schools. If so, it's possible for you to do a "rollover." Log into your Common App account and change the term that you intend to start college to next year. (Note that the 2020-21 Common App goes live on August 1 so expect a few days of shutdown just before then.)

Although you will still have to reapply to colleges (and possibly solicit new recommendations), you will see that a rolled-over Common App will appear on your computer screen and include much of the information you previously entered. Phew! (Note, however, that "If a question is changed or added in a particular section of the Common App, the answer you provided prior to August 1 won't rollover. You'll just need to go back and answer that question to complete your application," the application says).

You can contact colleges individually, if you already applied there, to explain that you've decided not to enroll where you'd originally intended and to ask how much new material they require from you. At some schools, the answer may be "None. We keep applications for two years ... or more. But send us another application fee." If you applied to any colleges using their own applications or any different one (besides the Common App), you should contact them directly to ask about next steps.

BUT ... even if a college doesn't demand a whole new application from you (just your money!), you should definitely submit an additional essay that explains your decision to postpone your enrollment and to make new college plans. Also explain what you have been doing since your senior year ended and what you expect to do during your time off before college. Of course, admission officials are aware that the pandemic has put limits on what teenagers have accomplished in recent months — or will accomplish in the weeks ahead — but even so, you need to fill in some of these gaps.

If admission officials see that you graduated in 2020 and your application looks like it was completed last year, with no mention of what's happened in your life since last fall, it could work against you that you didn't make the effort to submit any information beyond what you've "recycled." It is very important that you show all your target colleges that you have a special interest in each one. This is particularly true if you're reapplying to a place that accepted you already but you turned down. The admission folks will be wondering, "If this kid said no last time, what's changed?" So tell them!

If a college rejected you last year, you can certainly take another shot. Usually a student who has been denied once won't be admitted without adding new academic achievements to their file. But you may be able to get good news after bad if you can make a compelling case for why this school is truly the right place for you or if you can supply more details about prior — or new — non-academic accomplishments or experiences.

If you do decide to start the onerous admission process over, "The Dean" suggests that you trim your college list. You will probably do a far better job on your applications — and be able to convince each college that makes the cut that they hold a special place in your heart — if you don't spread yourself too thin and try for another 30 schools again, even if there's some recycling involved to lighten your load this time. Good luck!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at

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