Admissions decisions are out in the world and reactions range from elated to disappointed to angry. One reaction response you might have heard is, “Oh, I got rejected from X University because I was over-qualified. Totally Tufts Syndrome.” No, Tufts Syndrome isn’t a disease that can be found on WebMD or Mayo Clinic, rather it’s something that can be found in the threads of College Confidential. Tufts Syndrome is an “alleged admissions practice where a university or academic institution rejects or wait-lists highly qualified students on the grounds that such students are bound to be accepted by more prestigious universities or programs.” It’s essentially the practice of “yield protection” that keeps the yield rate statistic high by admitting those who are likely to attend.
Tufts is the school that got the short-end of the stick by having this practice named after them because they are the institution most accused of it. Obviously since no university or college would be willing to concede this admissions practice, there’s no definitive proof it exists in any form. However, scores of applicants and “TS victims” will vehemently swear by its existence. Here we’ll examine two sides of the debate on how legitimate each case is.
Of course it’s real, I got into better schools
Looking through College Confidential, there’s a lot more on the side of the argument that TS exists. This might say more about the type of people who participate in these threads, but many offer anecdotes in evidence of the existence of TS along the lines of “I was accepted to HYP and rejected to George Washington University and Tufts. There’s clearly a disconnect here.” Things can get a little ugly with accusations of schools having inferiority complexes that lead them to such a practice. Notwithstanding the obvious elitism evident in this tone, there are also cases of genuine confusion. It’s true that when applying to schools, there are certain levels of confidence in one’s admission, that’s why creating safety, reach, and dream college lists exist. So, it’s not necessarily being arrogant to expect an acceptance.
Fellow TP writer Kathleen Norton also cites an example, “[University name redacted] is notorious for this. Every year the top kids from my high school get flat-out rejected and end up going to places like Cornell and MIT. This is like a pretty known fact…so I’d say it can be true.” Others chime in with similar scenarios. It’s hard to deny the legitimacy of many of these cases, especially when emphasis on the prestige associated with yield rates would logically place a pressure on schools to reject those who clearly wouldn’t attend.
No, it’s not a thing, you’re just bitter
Admissions counselor Dave Berry points to demonstrated interest as being the key to this conundrum, “demonstrated interest comprises several levels of obvious enthusiasm expressed from an applicant to an admissions staff. Maybe the most obvious expression of interest in a school is the campus visit. One has to wonder why an applicant wouldn’t take the time to visit his or her prospective college. A campus visit also opens the door to contact with admissions staffers, especially if on-campus interviews are offered. Visits enable interaction with faculty and campus organizations.” Berry and other admissions counselors often respond to accusations of TS with the claim that not every highly qualified student is admitted simply because of statistics but because of their compatibility with the school. The problem here is “fit” which is clearer to admissions counselors when regarding applicants with demonstrated interest. Thus, they argue, it is not a matter of qualification or yield protection, but finding those who genuinely want to attend the school and would fit in. In essence, those who claim to be rejected on the grounds of yield protection are usually the ones who made it blatantly obvious that they saw the school as a “safety” and didn’t take the prompts seriously or didn’t demonstrate interest.
Conrad Jeong also gives his input, “Personally I think it’s a syndrome that’s more reflective of college applicants more than colleges. A lot of your run-of-the-mill Ivy League applicants include schools like Tufts, BC, NYU, etc. as quasi-safety schools that they expect to get into. And as such, they wouldn’t take their supplements very seriously, and would respond to their essay questions in really generic ways. I know people give Tufts a hard time for this, but I know that back when I was thinking of applying to Tufts, I saw their supplement and they have a lot of essay questions. So I honestly think Tufts just takes into larger consideration how seriously students take their application.”
While this debate is unlikely to ever reach a definitive verdict, it’s important to keep in mind that the admissions process is one that is highly cloaked, and attempting to derive any vindication or explanation from it won’t really benefit anyone once decisions are released.