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Deferred from Your Top Choice College: WHAT NEXT?

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

You were ready…hoping for acceptance...but prepared for rejection. At least you would finally know either way. But what you were not expecting was the all too common, extremely unsatisfying, not in, not out, limbo of deferral. Do not despair. A deferral is not the end of the world. You are still very much in the game. It is time to give it your all and hope for the best.


A deferral can have different implications depending on the school. Some colleges defer a small proportion of applicants and ultimately end up converting a significant percentage of them to admits. Historically, these include Bowdoin, Duke, Middlebury, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Stanford. For these schools, deferral is used to indicate that your application is competitive and will be given serious consideration in the regular admissions process. Other schools, like the University of Michigan or Georgetown, defer almost all unaccepted applicants to the regular decision round. MIT in 2019, reported their lowest acceptance rate ever, but still admitted over 200 applicants who were initially deferred. Some colleges defer especially strong candidates who may view the college as a “safety” school and wait to see if the student withdraws their application based on acceptance from other colleges. But at all colleges, a deferral means, quite simply, that your application will be reconsidered and a decision will be made at a later date. No matter why you have been deferred, this is your opportunity to improve your chances of admission in the regular round.


Here is what you should do to have the best chance of turning your deferral into an acceptance in the regular decision round.


Make a plan of action before you receive your decision. Most students prepare themselves for acceptance or rejection. The fact is that with the rising number of early applicants, deferral is now a common outcome. Don’t get caught off guard. Be ready and proactive when you are motivated and objective, rather than having to act when you are disappointed and emotional. Meet with your counselor at least a week before this date and discuss what your specific next steps will be and what you need to do to execute them.


When you receive your decision, and it is a deferral, the admissions office will give you specific instructions of what to do. Before you respond to the college, review and understand their directions well. Some colleges will invite you to send additional materials and tell them why they should accept you. Others will go so far as to tell you not to call, write, or send additional materials. Find out what the college needs from you. A college may want to see more updated test scores or an updated grade report. Others may encourage another recommendation letter, an activities update, or a letter demonstrating your continued enthusiasm. Work with your admissions coach or counselor to make a plan to effectively address the particular school’s instructions.

Assuming the college welcomes and invites you to stay in touch, it is time to keep cool and get cracking. Here is what to do:


Write a one page letter by email addressed to your admissions representative and person you received your deferral letter from and copy the head of admissions. Your letter should:

Be enthusiastic and excited. State clearly that the college remains your top choice and that if accepted you will happily accept and attend. If you are not sure that you will attend, state that the college is still a top choice.

Tell the college something they don’t already know. Update them on activities you have already shared, but ideally give them some new information. Have you earned any awards or honors since you submitted your early application? Have you gotten a part-time job or secured a spring or summer internship?

Remind admissions why you love their school and how you plan to contribute to and make an impact in their community. Refer to specific classes, clubs, and opportunities that show that you have researched the school well. Show admissions that you are a great fit for the school and that the school is a great fit for you.


If there is another senior year teacher, coach or employer, who will add new information and give you an outstanding recommendation, ask for it. Help your recommender help you by telling them what you would like them to highlight in their letter and why you are so excited about the particular school.


If you have not visited the school, this is the time to do it. This will help you determine if the school is really right for you and it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate interest. If they are open to it, request a meeting with your regional admissions rep and tell them how you hope to learn and contribute to their community. If you have not already done it, visit classes and connect with current students and let your admissions rep know that you have done this in person or by email.


As hard as it is when you are disappointed, be gracious and upbeat. Even if a school tells you they don’t track demonstrated interest, they do track any interactions you (or your parents) have with the school. It is important that you treat everyone that you come into contact with from the school, especially people who answer the phone, courteously. Be your best in all communications, whether in person, by email, or by phone and don’t assume that it will not get back to your admissions officer. Admissions people are looking for students who will make their college community a happy and compassionate place. Use this opportunity to show them that is who you are.


As always, the most important thing to college admissions is your academic performance in high school. Do the best job possible at school in all of your academic classes. Minimally, give it your all at school and keep your grades up. Ideally, get the best grades you have ever gotten and tell your admissions representative about it. Let them know that this is a trend you are eager to continue.


A deferral can be disappointing but it is not the end of the world. Ideally, you have planned ahead and all of your regular decision applications are already done and ready to submit. If so, submit them and get excited about these schools too. If not, focus and give them everything you’ve got. Now is the time to treat them as your top choice schools and do as much as possible to demonstrate interest and to learn all you can about them. Don’t let your disappointment about a deferral hurt your chances at another fantastic choice for you.


The college process is a marathon, not a sprint, and you are getting closer to the finish line. Stay strong, focused and on track. You are going to college and there are so many schools where you will thrive and learn. It may not seem like it now, but the only college that really matters is the one you are at in the fall of your freshman year.

If your early application was deferred, contact us to help you do all you can to gain admission to a college that is the best fit for you.


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