What to Do if Your College Application is Deferred
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
- What Does It Mean to Be Deferred?
- Why Do Colleges Defer Students?
- What Are Your Chances of Acceptance After Deferral?
- What to Do if You’re Deferred
When you apply to a college through an Early Decision or Early Action process, it’s clear that you’re particularly motivated to get admitted to that school. This can make waiting for your admission decision all the more agonizing.
If you’re accepted, your options are relatively simple. Rejection is upsetting, but in a way, it’s even simpler — one option has just been eliminated. There is, however, a third possibility for your early admission decision: deferral, in which the college decides to delay making a final decision on your application until the Regular Decision notification date.
Being deferred can be confusing. It can make you sad. It can make you question your ability to get in. Deferral is a common experience, but that doesn’t make it feel any better. Keep in mind- it is NOT a rejection! CollegeVine is here to help you through it- we’ll talk about what the deferral process looks like, what deferral means for your application, and what you can do to maximize your chances of eventually being accepted to your top college!
What Does It Mean to Be Deferred?
When you apply Early Decision or Action to a school, the admissions department does not have all applications for that cycle in. So, they may need more time or information to decide if you stand out in the applicant pool. You have enough great qualities that you stand a chance at acceptance, but your application may not have been strong enough to warrant an early decision. That’s okay! Deferral is a common result of an early application, since competitive colleges often have more qualified applicants than they can accept. Deferral is a tool used by schools to build the best possible freshman class by keeping strong candidates in the applicant pool rather than rejecting them entirely early in the process. It gives you time to strengthen your application, and gets your name in front of the university early. From there, you can try to improve your grades, possibly re-take the ACT or SAT, or add an extracurricular.
As a deferred applicant, you will usually be reevaluated with the Regular Decision applicants automatically. Some schools may ask that you submit more information or a letter stating your continued interest in the school. Make sure you read the deferral letter very carefully so you can follow all instructions! You should receive a decision with the regular timeline and decision date, usually around the beginning of April. If your Early Decision application was binding, being deferred releases you from that commitment. If you are deferred and then accepted Regular Decision, you will not be contractually obligated to attend that school, and can freely choose among all schools you’ve been accepted to.
Why Do Colleges Defer Students?
Deferral usually happens when the admissions committee can’t come to a decision either way for an early applicant. There are a number of reasons why this can happen:
- You may be a borderline applicant. Perhaps your application is pretty good overall, but doesn’t particularly stand out in the early applicant pool.
- The admissions committee may want to see how you compare to the students in the Regular Decision applicant pool, rather than the smaller Early Decision pool alone.
- The admissions committee may decide they need to see more information about you in order to make a final decision. For example, suppose your grades weren’t the best early in high school, but your academic performance has improved over time. The committee may want to see your first-semester senior year grades to confirm your upward academic trend.
What Are Your Chances of Acceptance After Deferral?
Some number of deferred students get accepted every year, but it’s difficult to say what one particular individual’s chance of acceptance may be. Your chances depend on more than just your application, like the strength of the entire applicant pool that year. Many schools, particularly very competitive schools, defer a large portion of their early applications. For some examples, in the 2020-2021 early round:
- Brown University admitted 16% of early applicants
- Dartmouth University admitted 21% of early applicants
- Duke University admitted 16.7% of early applicants
- Harvard University admitted 7.4% of early applicants
If we look at Georgetown, only 10% of early decision applicants were accepted, with over 89% being deferred. Of that 89%, 15% were then admitted in the regular round. To put it in perspective, Georgetown’s 2020 overall acceptance rate was only 14%. For more information on your chances of acceptance at your ideal university, check out our free Chancing Engine.
What to Do if You’re Deferred
Take a deep breath. Deferral does NOT equal rejection
Make sure you READ the rest of the letter. Many schools give especially important information about what steps you should take next, and about things you shouldn’t do. Some will ask that you send updated grades, some will ask that you confirm your intention to be considered in the regular decision round, some will ask that you specifically do not send more information. You must read the letter closely to be sure you show you are motivated and can follow directions.
Re-evaluate Your Application
Most colleges allow deferred applicants to submit an update to their application, though schools can vary as to what updates they will accept. Aside from what your school specifically asks for, a good general rule is to only submit information that is new and substantial. Focus on things that have happened since you submitted your application. Remember, the admissions office already has your original application to consider, so don’t submit information they already know.
Check over your essay again, or use our FREE essay peer review tool! Make sure your essay is personal, follows all requested aspects from the prompt, and makes you stand out from the larger pool. Some students may also decide to retake standardized tests in hopes of getting higher scores. If this is your plan, put in the effort to study and prepare better for these tests than you did the first time around. A prep course, a test-specific tutor, or taking practice tests can help to make an additional round of testing worth the effort. Remember to have your test scores sent directly to the college.
Look over your list of schools again
Competitive schools attract more qualified applicants than they can admit, so there is always some element of chance when it comes to your acceptance. While you may have your heart set on a school, if you are deferred, don’t take it personally. You never know what factors are at play, and it’s possible that the school is not the best fit for you. Take a look at what drew you to the school.
- Geographic location?
- A specific academic program?
- The atmosphere?
Pinpoint some of the most desirable qualities, and look for them at other schools that may be a better fit for you. Also, redirect your focus to schools you were accepted to, or have a high chance of acceptance to. Join social media groups, reach out to current students or recent grads, network to learn more about each school and get a better feel for it. Visit the campus! The more informed you are about all your options, the better prepared you’ll be to make an informed choice once all your final decisions are in.
For more information about the deferral process, take a look at these posts on the CollegeVine blog: