What to Do If You Were Deferred

A deferred admission, at its core, is getting a second chance at getting admitted to college.

It happens when college admissions officers prefer to review an early application all over again during the regular decision round before making a decision. A deferral can lead to either an acceptance or denial.

First things first: you can only get deferred if you apply via an early admission option such as early decision or early action as well as restrictive early action (or also single-choice early action) that some colleges and universities offer.

A deferral letter is very unlikely for you to encounter if you apply regular decision.

When applying early, there are 3 possible outcomes: an acceptance, a denial or a deferral.

Of course, an acceptance is the optimum result.

While a deferral is not as good as an acceptance, it’s definitely better than a denial — your application will be added to the RD pool to be reviewed again, after which you will get another decision.

Deferred Admission vs. Deferred Enrollment

Deferred admission means that your application submitted during the early round, whether early decision or early action, has been moved to the regular decision round and will be reviewed with the rest of the RD pool.

Deferred enrollment, meanwhile, means that you have been accepted but you want to delay your enrollment for a certain period of time.

So, in other words, deferring your enrollment means taking a gap year.

Back in 2020, around 20% of admitted students at Harvard University deferred their enrollment, according to CNN.

Deferred vs. Waitlisted

Being deferred means that your application has been reviewed but will be reviewed again during the regular decision round, where you can get accepted or denied.

On the other hand, being waitlisted means that your application has been reviewed and you will either be accepted or denied, depending on if there’s still space to fill for the incoming class.

When waitlisted, you should inform the college whether or not you want to remain on the waitlist.

When deferred, in contrast, your application will automatically be added to the RD pool until admissions officers are ready to make a final decision.

Why Do Colleges Defer Students?

Colleges defer candidates for different reasons. In most instances, they find early applicants promising but want to give them the opportunity to improve certain components of their applications.

Sometimes, admissions officers just want to build a well-rounded incoming class or simply need more time to make up their minds.

Here’s something that you should always bear in mind: if a college deferred you to the regular decision round, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t like your application. If that were the case, it would reject you outright.

Instead, it liked your application, but some things must be done first.

It’s rare for a college or university to explain why a deferred student got deferred.

In most instances, it means that college admissions officers want you to tweak your application a bit to make it more worthy of an acceptance letter.

Applying in Regular Decision When Deferred

You no longer need to apply regular decision to a college that has deferred your application. Besides, it’s not allowed given that applicants can apply to a particular college only once during the same admissions cycle.

Absolutely, you can apply RD to other colleges when deferred — the binding contract of applying early decision is dissolved by a deferral.

Since a deferral can result in either an acceptance or rejection, students who get deferred are commonly advised by college admissions experts to consider applying RD to other good-fit institutions.

Can You Appeal?

Generally speaking, you cannot appeal a deferral — only a denial can be appealed.

Since a deferral is neither a denial nor acceptance, it’s not uncommon for colleges offering early admission plans to allow a deferral decision to be appealed.

Changing your intended major or school, in some instances, may be appealed for a reconsideration of your early application.

At the Pennsylvania State University, for instance, early applicants who get deferred may indicate a change in their chosen major for their applications to be reconsidered, although an immediate decision is not guaranteed.

Do You Still Have a Chance?

Yes, deferred applicants have a chance of getting admitted during the regular decision round. Acceptance rates for deferred candidates can vary from college to college.

Unfortunately, for those who got deferred by competitive postsecondary institutions, their chances of getting in are on the low end.

The general consensus is that the acceptance rate for a deferred student is anywhere from 5% to 10%.

While it’s better than 0%, such as when you get denied during the early decision or early action round, there’s no guarantee that you will get an offer to enroll after all RD applications have been reviewed.

To give you a much better idea, check out the following stats at some popular institutions:

Dartmouth College

Many postsecondary institutions that offer early admission plans and thus defer some applicants do not share how many early applicants get deferred and eventually accepted during the regular decision round.

And one of them is Dartmouth College.

However, the Ivy League institution, which is popular for its social sciences and undergraduate engineering programs, says that anywhere from 5% to 10% of applicants deferred during the ED round are eventually accepted during the RD round.

Duke University

Back in 2018, 4,090 students applied to Duke University early decision — only 21.4% got accepted.

Of the more than 3,200 ED applicants who didn’t receive an acceptance letter in the mail, 99 of the deferred students eventually got in during the regular decision round.

Georgetown University

According to Georgetown University, a private Jesuit research university ranked #22 in National Universities 2024 by US News, approximately 15% of all applicants deferred from early action get accepted during the regular decision round.

So, in other words, the institution’s acceptance rate for deferred candidates is higher than average.

Georgetown, by the way, adds that applying EA will not necessarily increase your admissions chances (or lower your chances of getting deferred) since the acceptance rates for the EA and RD rounds are pretty much the same.

When applying to it, spending enough time strengthening your application is a much better idea than applying earlier than everybody else.

Georgia Institute of Technology

One of the most selective public institutions in the US is Georgia Tech, which admits only around 17% of the more than 50,000 applicants it receives per admissions cycle. It offers early action, which causes some early applicants to be deferred.

It’s also one of the most generous when it comes to admitting deferred candidates.

According to the institution, which is ranked #33 in National Universities 2024 by US News, the percentage of deferred students that get accepted during the regular decision round tends to vary from year to year.

However, Georgia Tech says that over the past 2 years, around 20% of deferred students ultimately get accepted.

University of Virginia

A selective public institution with an acceptance rate of only 19%, the University of Virginia is famous for its liberal arts and humanities, social sciences, mathematics and engineering undergraduate programs.

Of the more than 3,460 early decision applicants to UVA in 2021, only around 32% got accepted. On the other hand, 30% got deferred and had their applications added to the regular decision pool.

Among deferred candidates, only 4% were eventually offered by the public research university to matriculate.

University of Pennsylvania

Given that it’s an Ivy League school, everyone knows that UPenn has one of the lowest acceptance rates: 7%.

Fortunately for students who apply early decision to the #6 in National Universities, as per US News 2024 ranking, but end up getting deferred to the regular decision round, they have an edge over the rest — according to the prestigious institution itself, in 2021, around 9.5% of deferred candidates were welcomed by its admissions officers.

5 Things to Do If You Get Deferred

And now, here are some of the steps you may take if you get a deferral letter from your top-choice college:

1. Get in Touch With Your High School Counselor

Receiving a deferral letter in the mail can make any college-bound teen who applied early to his or her dream college feel frustrated and want to contact the institution’s admissions officers to inquire about what could have gone wrong.

It’s perfectly fine to feel this way, but it’s not right to act on the urge.

Instead of calling or emailing the college’s admissions office, speak with your high school guidance counselor — he or she knows very well how to deal with the situation, such as by finding out any information as to why you were deferred. Were components of your application incomplete?

Does the institution want to see improvements in your grades?

No matter what, your high school counselor is the best person to determine the reason/s for your deferral. Besides, some colleges and universities discourage deferred applicants from getting in touch with them to ask.

2. Inform the College of Your Continued Interest in Attending

After meeting with your high school counselor and him or her getting back to you with important details about your application getting deferred, it’s time to send the institution what’s referred to as a letter of continued interest (LOCI).

Simply put, a LOCI is something that lets the college know you would still like to attend if accepted.

Without sending a LOCI as soon as possible, it’s not unlikely for your dream school’s admissions officers to think that you are more interested in going to a different college and are not as committed to matriculating as you once were when you applied early decision or early action — demonstrated interest matters to many colleges and universities.

The best time to send a LOCI via email or through the college’s application portal is within 2 weeks after getting your deferral letter. However, you must have a stellar game plan before doing so.

Informing the college about the steps you are about to take to improve your application or certain components of it would make for an excellent element of your LOCI.

You may also include something that could add value to your application, such as a recommendation letter from another teacher or an alumni member who can vouch for your talents and capabilities.

Or you may choose to send a LOCI before May 1, right after achieving new heights.

Since college admissions officers are always busy, keep your LOCI between 200 to 400 words.

Other than some major updates in your high school career, remember to inform the institution that it’s still your top choice and you will attend it if accepted.

Don’t forget to jog the admissions officer’s memory as to why the college is the best fit for you.

3. Improve Spring Grades

In most instances, getting deferred means that the college sees your potential but wants to see that you are indeed capable of pushing yourself further and working harder to actualize your potential.

This is why many institutions encourage deferred candidates to study harder and impress with their first semester grades in their senior year of high school — college admissions officers love an upward trend in a candidate’s grades as it’s a telltale sign that he or she can finish strong and succeed in his or her academic endeavors.

Unhappy with your test scores and feel that they are the ones responsible for your deferral?

Retaking the SAT or ACT would be highly recommendable in this case to increase your scores — according to the College Board, research shows that 2 out of 3 high schoolers increase their test scores by 63% by retaking the SAT.

Other than your grades and test scores, it’s also important that you improve everything else.

For instance, you can engage in an extracurricular activity that can highlight your leadership skills or participate in a community volunteering program that can show the fact that you care and can be a catalyst for change.

Winning awards and getting recognitions can also make your college application stand out from the rest in the regular decision pool.

4. Send Additional Materials

After reaching new heights, it’s important that you let your top-choice institution that deferred your early application to the regular decision pool know about your achievements and successes since your deferral.

Most colleges with early admission plans encourage deferred applicants to submit additional materials, including those that they have already submitted during the early decision or early action round but could be better.

Some welcome certain materials only, while others accept just about anything that could help admissions officers make more informed decisions.

At the University of Georgia, for instance, deferred students may send an optional recommendation letter from a teacher as well as additional test scores and/or self-reported midyear grades.

Harvard University, on the other hand, says that any additional information that deferred students may send to increase their chances of getting in during the RD round should be limited to significant developments in their high school careers — better course grades, better SAT or ACT scores and more awards and recognitions.

It adds that, typically, all the important details are already on file with the Ivy League’s admissions officers.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth College says that it welcomes updates on recent notable academic, extracurriculars and accomplishments as well as new test scores of deferred students.

Georgia Tech has what it calls the Deferred Supplemental Form (DSF), which deferred students can use in updating the admissions officers at the public research university that offers an assortment of technologically focused degrees about their extracurriculars, standardized test scores, high school grades and others that can help increase their admissions chances.

5. Tweak Your College List

Just because your early application was deferred doesn’t have to mean that your dream school should suddenly turn into the stuff your nightmares are made of — it can stay as your number one.

But it doesn’t have to be the only one.

Even if the college that deferred you is the best fit for you, always keep in mind that there are many good postsecondary institutions that could also be a great fit for you.

All you have to do is research to learn which ones they are. But hurry up since you only have a few weeks before regular decision deadlines arrive.

Of course, you will have to make sure that your previously balanced college list is even more balanced this time around. Feel free to remove some of the colleges you have considered before and replace them with new ones.

With a well-balanced college list, you can keep your confidence level up despite the recent deferral.

It’s Not the End of the World

A deferral does not herald the end of your dream of having a bachelor’s degree. Truth be told, it’s a second chance at getting accepted to the same institution — the college of your top choosing.

Sadly, it’s not a guarantee that you will get in during the regular decision round.

As soon as you receive your letter of deferral, spring into action right away and map out the steps you will have to take to boost your admissions chances. Also, always remember that there are many other good colleges out there, a lot of which could be wonderful schools for you, too — apply to the best-fit ones RD.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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