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Deferred? Here's What to Do Next

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Students who apply to college under an early decision or early action plan usually receive one of three decisions: Accepted, Denied or Deferred. If you were accepted, great! You can celebrate. If you were denied, you can grieve the loss and focus on applying to other colleges.  But if you were deferred, you’re somewhere in between--you’re not in, but you are not “not in” either. Some students describe it as admissions “purgatory."

What’s a Deferral?

A deferral means the college wants to review your application again with the regular decision pool of applicants.  While it might feel like a rejection, a deferral is not a denial, nor does it mean there was something wrong with your application. In fact, it’s quite the opposite:  “If you were deferred it means your application is strong enough to continue to be seriously considered by the admissions committee,” explains Hannah Mendlowitz, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Yale University, in the Yale admissions blog.

Why Do Colleges Defer Students?

The college’s goal is to build a well-rounded freshman class. If you’ve been deferred, usually it’s because the college wants to see how your application compares with applications submitted by students applying regular decision.

After considering your application in the regular decision round, you can be accepted, rejected or waitlisted. Here are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting accepted.

4 Things to Do When You’ve Been Deferred

  • Follow the instructions in the deferral letter. Some colleges may ask you to write a letter to confirm your interest, which is another opportunity to express why you feel the college is a good fit for you.
  • Reach out to the admissions office. Keep communications positive, upbeat, and hopeful, no matter how disappointed you feel. If you are absolutely sure that you would attend the college if accepted in the regular decision round, say so.
  • Send an update on your midterm accomplishments, for example, grades showing an upward swing, awards, or new projects and activities inside or outside of the classroom.
  • Arrange for another letter of recommendation.

Focus on Your Backup Plan

Finish and submit applications to the schools on your list. Some students find the worst part of getting deferred is having to finish all of their other apps!

Get Excited about Your Other Schools

Find out more about the other colleges on your list. Check out their College Profiles on CollegeData and visit campuses if you can. You might discover a college that’s an even better fit than your first choice.

Look at the Bright Side

You have the gift of time to look more closely at the other schools on your list and to make your college decision once you have been accepted. Some students even feel a wave of relief when they receive a deferral, either because they’re not 100% sure about their early decision college, or they applied early to take advantage of a higher admission rate for early applications without seriously evaluating whether or not the college is right for them.

“I liked Washington University in St. Louis but didn't love it. Yet I submitted my ED application anyway, and I immediately regretted it," says Julian, a student profiled in CollegeData’s Road to College Student Stories. “In the ensuing month, I experienced huge waves of anxiety and dread.” When his deferral arrived, he was overjoyed.

Read Julian’s story about getting into Dartmouth.

Finally, hang in there. Deferrals may be an unpleasant bump on the road to college, but they are something many students experience. If you’ve created a strong list of safety, reach, and match schools that you know you’d be happy to attend, it’s likely that you’ll receive good news in the spring.

What's Next?

Need to research more colleges to add to your list? Visit College Match.

Discover your reach, match and safety schools with College Chances and Admissions Tracker.

The information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.