Have you been deferred from college? There is no doubt that after working hard on college applications, you may be disappointed to discover that your dream college neither admitted nor denied you. Even worse, you now have to wait a few months more to find out the ultimate decision. The mixed emotions that you are feeling–sadness, disappointment, anxiety, and uncertainty–are understandable. But most importantly, you may even be confused about what deferral means.
As discussed in the post about early admissions, Early Action and Early Decision cycles have become more competitive than ever. The more students who apply early, the more likely you can expect a deferral letter from at least one.
If you have been deferred from college, don’t worry–there’s still a chance of being admitted. Keep reading to learn what it means to be deferred from college and what to do next.
Table of Contents
What is Deferral?
Deferral means that the college you applied to, as an Early Decision or Early Action applicant, has decided to delay a decision until it reviews regular decision applicants. A deferral is not a “no.” Instead, it’s “let’s take another look and we’ll decide later.” Also, deferral does not mean that you did anything wrong. There are various factors we’ll discuss below that lead colleges to defer students until the spring.
Why Do Colleges Defer?
Deferral is a possible outcome when you apply to college as an early decision or early action applicant. Since 2020, the number of students applying during early rounds has increased tremendously. Last year, more than 450 colleges offered an early admissions plan, and colleges saw record applications. You can expect the same in 2021. Many students believe that applying early leads to better admissions chances. The reality is that colleges have not increased open slots. Therefore, competition for early admission is fierce, and most applicants will be denied or deferred until the spring.
If you applied early and received a deferral letter from your dream college, you are not alone. College data shows that admissions offices are routinely doling out more deferral letters than acceptance and denial letters combined. For example, Harvard deferred 80% of the 10,086 students who applied for admission to the Class of 2025. Also, last year, 15,081 students applied Early Action to MIT. Of those applicants, 719 secured admission. The MIT admissions committee deferred 71% to the Regular Decision round. That’s 10,673 students! Georgetown, which only admitted 11% of early applications, deferred the other 7,751 applicants not accepted to the regular decision round under the early admissions program.
While statistics change yearly, social and economic factors can impact deferral statistics. When the University of Chicago adopted a test-optional policy in 2018, deferral numbers increased as the University saw record applications, growing to 34,900 and yielding an overall acceptance rate of 5.9%. Other colleges experienced higher deferral rates during the pandemic due to increased applicants from test-optional policies.
Deferred vs. Waitlisted
Being deferred from college happens in the Early Decision and Early Action rounds. Some people believe that colleges defer more early action applicants to encourage them to apply Early Decision 2.
Getting on the waitlist is similar to being deferred as an Early Decision or Early Action applicant. Colleges create a waitlist when all spots in the incoming class are full. Some colleges also have waitlists as a strategy to lessen the blow of denying highly qualified applicants. Colleges also utilize waitlists as their insurance against yield uncertainties. Above all else, colleges are businesses.
Both outcomes create a period of uncertainty as the college figures out the make of the incoming class.
Why Was I Deferred from College?
As more students apply to college during the early admissions cycle, you can expect deferrals. The admissions committee is delaying their decision until they have examined you against regular admissions pool applicants. Being deferred from college doesn’t mean the school will not eventually accept you in the regular admissions round. The admissions committee may have additional questions about your candidacy or too many students of your profile type and want to make sure they have considered other candidates before returning to your file.
When deciding on candidates, colleges are often concerned about two things when they defer students. (1) Yield: the number of students who accept their offers. In other words, will you actually attend. And (2) Value: do you add enough value to round out the first-year class? The Letter of Continued Interest, which we’ll discuss later, can help you address concerns of yield and value.
When deferred from college, you feel that your life is in limbo as you wait until spring to learn the final decision. Resist succumbing to negative thinking that all chances are lost. Instead, use this time to better position yourself for success in the regular admissions pool.
What To Do After Being Deferred from College?
It’s important to follow the steps below to maximize your chances of admission after being placed on the deferral list.
Read the deferral letter
First, read the deferral letter for instructions on what to do next. If the letter explicitly states that you do not send additional materials, do not send anything new.
Decide where the school ranks on your list
While you may have fantasized about attending what you thought was your dream college, now that you’re deferred, there may be other schools you previously overlooked. This experience may have brought more clarity of your school choices. There is still plenty of time to apply to colleges as deadlines can go as late as February 1. Many others have rolling admissions, which means there is no deadline, so they take applications as long as seats are open. Take advantage of this time to open up your options. You may end up preferring another school over the one that deferred you.
Write a Letter of Continued Interest
If the deferred letter does not discourage you from sending materials, write a Letter of Continued Interest. Many schools invite students to send a letter of continued interest. The letter of continued interest that you write should not be about your disappointment in not being admitted, not seeing yourself anywhere else, or how wonderful you are. Instead, an effective letter of continued interest is a love letter to the college that pulls at the heartstrings of the admissions officer. It’s a statement of how well-fitting you are, speaks specifically to the college, and reiterates your admissions as an opportunity to invest in a young person with a lot of promise if attending the right institution.
Beef up your resume
The college may also allow you to share additional materials. I recommend students share a resume with any updates since application submissions, live links to YouTube channels or digital portfolios that showcase unique talents, as well as fall grades and standardized test scores.
Take more standardized tests
And when it comes to standardized test scores, reporting scores to colleges that value test scores can help. Even if they have extended test-optional policies, highly selective colleges want high test scores unless you fall into a category of students who are a recruitment priority. So here’s an important word of caution: only submit scores if you fall in the middle 50 percent range of last year’s incoming admitted class.
Ask for a recommendation letter
You may also benefit from additional letters of support to describe your match for the college. The college may have recommendation letters on file, so try to find another perspective. Ideally an alumnus of the school, you’ll want someone who can speak to your fit and passion for the school and the academic promise you show. If you cannot find someone affiliated with the college, then a recommendation letter from someone familiar with your alignment with the college can be effective.
Visit the college
Also, if possible, visit the college, especially if you have never stepped foot on campus. While many colleges don’t track demonstrated interest, it’s easier for admissions to move past concerns that you won’t attend if you’ve actually visited and can speak concretely about your fit for the college. Finally, if offered, set up an interview to meet with a campus representative to express your enthusiasm for the college.
Connect with your admissions officer
Unless discouraged in the deferral letter, until the college posts their final decision, keep in touch with your admissions officer. To get started, you can thank them for reviewing your application and inform them you have followed instructions shared in the deferral letter. On a monthly basis, send an email to stay on their radar as a student who’s very excited about the institution.
Keep up your As
This should go without saying, but you must keep your grades as high as possible and show incremental improvement through the end of the first semester. Colleges may require a grade report as part of your continued interest package. Academic performance will matter until the end, so don’t slip in your classwork.
Sample Letter of Continued Interest
Conclusion + Next Steps
Being deferred is not a definite no. So, don’t panic. After being deferred from college, it’s important that you use this time to follow the steps outlined in this post. Start here and download this Deferral Letter of Continued Interest template.
Also, check out this post to learn how to continue demonstrating interest in the college to increase your chances for admissions.
And hopefully, if you are ultimately accepted, be sure that you send a Thank You note. This is a step that is often overlooked but is a courtesy for the time and attention the admissions officer put into evaluating your application.
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