Tufts Syndrome

This post draws on what Dave Berry, an undergraduate admissions consultant, had to say regarding Tufts Syndrome with respect to undergraduate admissions. What he has to say may very well be applicable to law school and graduate-level business school as well. I’ll say it right off the bat: if the college is non-holistic, the odds a college will be afflicted with the Syndrome are almost non-existent. Look, I am not the first one who theorizes that Tufts Syndrome is a sickness caused by a lack of demonstrated interest but this thread on College Confidential flagged me forever as a proponent of this theory (Catria is my CC handle; I am also available for most undergraduate and law school chancing needs that do not involve transfers). Sorry if I’m writing this post about Tufts Syndrome like a physician would, but the very name suggests that the Syndrome is like any other ailment. Now, for the definition of the Tufts Syndrome.

Tufts Syndrome (also known as yield protection): A sickness that causes a college, a university or a department theoreof, to reject or to waitlist well-qualified applicants on the grounds that the student is unlikely to enroll if admitted.

Symptoms: Students get rejected or waitlisted from the afflicted college while their profile is as strong as, or stronger than, that of the students admitted; the admissions unit afflicted is not among the most selective in its category. (For the latter reason, the namesake of the Syndrome is cured since it is now in the “reach-for-anyone” category)

Diagnosis: Per The Collegiate Blog, it’s very difficult to prove whether a college is afflicted with Tufts Syndrome, since, often, the victims of the Syndrome will use the disease as a defense mechanism as they are primarily hurt by the bad news and/or insulted. Ultimately, only anecdotal evidence can be used for diagnosis.

At this point, you may ask: how does one prevent being tufted? Showing demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest usually means the interaction between the school and the applicant, and often the admissions officers themselves, but one must not overdo it. One may contact faculty, but they run the same risks as prospective graduate students and one may visit (if overnight visits are available, they are recommended, but you should at least, if you visit when school is in session, sit in a class) a college. Usually, the more applied-to the institution, the less likely are professors to answer queries prospective students might have, much less to take appointments with prospective students.

Another factor you might point at is whether, at some point in the application (in the case of colleges applied to through the Common Application or the Universal College Application, supplements) the college asks for what other colleges the applicant is considering. In this situation, you may list three or four schools at, or below, the level of the school that requests it but don’t lie. Unless the university explicitly requests to list all colleges and universities one is applying to, one is under no obligation to respond with a complete list. It may also be applicable for law or busines school (and, to a lesser extent, medical school) but if one is applying early action/decision, one may be finalizing a school list.

Remember, the average Joe is lucky to get into one or two colleges that fits them. If you’re worried about, or feel like you are, being tufted, you’re one of the lucky few (and most likely a high-performing student). The sort of students who, historically, had to worry about whether they are afflicted by Tufts Syndrome are high-performing enough to apply to a broad range of schools, according to the standard Reach, Match, Safety approach.

Because many posts on this blog pertain to PhD admissions, I’ve decided to dig a little deeper for Tufts Syndrome at the graduate level, and all I found was this thread on the Grad Cafe. Of course, this is written in the context of English-language literature PhD programs, but, since the academic community in most fields is a tightly-knit world, especially when one goes into deeper detail (e.g. medievalists in English, particle cosmologists in physics), there could be communication between schools, disguised under scholarly communication at conferences or otherwise.

In a PhD context, especially when one is applying to 10-12 schools and more, there is an additional reason why many schools ask for what other schools you’re applying to: to assess whether one would actually give some thought into doing a PhD, as well as assessing fit. That’s why ego-boost students aren’t necessarily successful to begin with. They may have the stats, they may have the research experience, they may have the GRE scores, but they often do not fit because they did only minimal research at best. Don’t forget that one’s back-up school may be another’s dream school. And that fit, in a PhD context, is not limited to research fit, but also, due to one of the challenges being the discourse (and ideas) of your peers, it may also come to mean the fit as in the level of the students with you if admitted. And, to make matters worse, funding considerations makes it harder to determine whether one is tufted or not.

One last thing: watch out for questions pertaining to “did you hear back/receive offers from other schools?”


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