As shared in the post about early admissions, if you apply to college during Early Action and Early Decision cycles, you will face a lot of competition. When more students apply early, you’re also likely to be deferred from at least one college. And when colleges have more applications to read in the regular decision round, this will lead to more students being waitlisted. Have you been deferred or waitlisted from college?
There is no doubt that after working hard on college applications, you may be disappointed to discover that your dream college has deferred or waitlisted you. If you have been deferred or waitlisted, it can be an emotional roller coaster as you wait several months to find out what the ultimate decision will be. The mixed emotions you feel—sadness, disappointment, anxiety, and uncertainty–are understandable. But most importantly, you may even be confused about what deferral vs. waitlisted means.
Deferrals and waitlists are two very different statuses that you could receive when applying to college. The main difference between the two is that a deferral means that your application has been put on hold, while a waitlist means your application has been neither accepted nor rejected.
Unsure of the difference between a deferral and a waitlist decision? Want to know what you can do to make your application more attractive so that you ultimately get admitted into your dream school? Read on to find out! Colleges may offer deferrals and waitlists during their admissions process, but they are not the same. We will go over what each is, plus provide tips for making your application as strong as possible for either option.
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 2023. 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.
What is Waitlisted?
Applying to college comes with the possibility of being placed on a waitlist, meaning that you have met all the qualifications, but the school is unable to offer you a spot at that exact moment. Being placed on a waitlist is not a rejection, but means the college couldn’t find you a spot. In 2019, National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), conducted a survey and found that over 82% of selective colleges use a waitlist.
Why Do Colleges Waitlist?
In the admissions process, colleges often accept more students than they can actually accommodate. There may not be enough spots for everyone, so a waitlist is a tool that colleges use to ensure that the college gets the desired number of enrolled students. When accepted students decline their offers, the college can fill any remaining slots from the waitlist. For some colleges, particularly more competitive colleges, the waitlist is a courtesy to lessen the blow of being flat out denied to highly qualified applicants.
What Are My Chances of Getting Off the Waitlist?
Out of all those who accepted a place on the waitlist at these universities, 7 percent received an admission offer. 2020-2021 admissions stats showed a decline in waitlisted applicants being accepted. Only 15 percent of waitlist applicants were accepted, compared to 32% of those waitlisted being accepted for the Class of 2024.
However, for the most selective universities, it can seem nearly impossible to get off the waitlist. According the US News, there are 10 schools in the US that admitted less than 3% of applicants from the waitlist. Schools listed include:
- Chapman University (California) – 1.5%
- University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) – 1.8%
- Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) – 2.6%
- Renssalear Polytechnic University (New York) – 2.8%
- Case Western University (Ohio) – 3.7%
- Carnegie Mellon University (Pennslyvania) – 3.9%
- Villanova University (Pennsylvania) – 4.0%
- Southern Methodist University (Texas) – 4.2%
- University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) – 4.2%
- Cornell University (New York) – 4.4%
Deferred vs. Waitlisted: Which is Better?
There is no such thing as one being better than the other. They are two different outcomes that are related to when you apply. Being deferred happens after you apply in the Early Action or Early Decision rounds and the college decides it cannot provide a decision right now. Your application has been deferred to the Regular Decision round and you will be considered with a larger pool of applicants.
Being waitlisted generally happens only after the Regular Decision round, when your application has been considered alongside of all of your peers, but all the spots of the incoming class are full.
Both outcomes will create uncertainty for you. You may be hesitant to move forward and commit to another school that has admitted you, until that college has given you a final decision.
Why Was I Deferred from College?
As more students apply to college during the early admissions cycle, you can expect to be deferred or waitlisted from at least one of the colleges you apply to. 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.
- Yield: the number of students who accept their offers. In other words, will you actually attend?
- 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 or late-summer 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 or Waitlisted 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 or waitlist 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 or waitlisted you.
Write a Letter of Continued Interest
If the deferral or waitlist letter does not discourage you from sending materials, write a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI). 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 or waitlist notification 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 or waitlist 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 #1
Sample Letter of Continued Interest #2
Analysis of Sample LOCIs
Both letters make a strong case for a college to continue to consider their applications, without sounding disappointed or bitter. The letters clearly reference emotional connections they have to the schools, which impress admissions officers. Moreover, they offer additional details on new projects and activities they’ve done to show the value they’d bring to the incoming class pool.
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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