I Was Deferred — What Now?

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 bewildering, but it’s a common experience, and CollegeVine is here to help. In this post, we’ll cover 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 college of choice.


An Introduction to the Deferral Process

Since competitive colleges have more qualified applicants than they can accept — as we’ve covered in our post Why Are Acceptance Rates So Low? — deferral is a common result of an early college application. Colleges use it as a tool to build the best possible matriculating class by keeping strong candidates in the applicant pool rather than rejecting them entirely early in the process.


Your deferral journey starts when you log into your online account (or open your envelope) and view your admission decision. If you’ve been deferred, you’ll know right away — the notification should be quite clear. This notification will usually tell you when you can expect to hear back from the admissions office with a final decision.


At this point, if you’ve decided that you no longer want to attend the college to which you applied early, you’re welcome to formally withdraw your application. You can contact your admissions office for details on how to do so. However, most deferred applicants will choose to stay in the process and see how things work out in the Regular Decision admissions pool.


For the most part, you won’t have to do anything to officially accept your deferred status — your application will be automatically reconsidered. However, you’ll usually have a chance to submit a letter stating your continued interest and update your application profile with any new information. We’ll go over that process in greater detail later in this post.


Deferred applicants are reevaluated along with the Regular Decision applicants, and will share the Regular Decision pool’s timeline and notification date. You’ll receive your final decision around the same time as you receive decisions from the other colleges to which you’ve applied, most often around the beginning of April, and you can then choose where to attend.


To be clear, you can only be deferred if you’ve applied to that college during an Early Decision or Early Action round. If you apply in the Regular Decision round, you can’t be deferred, but you may be waitlisted, which is similar in some ways. (You can learn more about waitlisting and what it means for you in our blog post I Was Waitlisted- What Do I Do Now?)


If you applied early through a binding Early Decision program, you should know that being deferred releases you from your Early Decision commitment to that college. In other words, if you’re deferred at your Early Decision school, but are then accepted to the school in the Regular Decision round, you’re not contractually required to attend that school, and can freely choose among all the colleges to which you’ve been accepted.  


What Deferral Means for Your Application

When the admissions committee can’t come to a decision either way for an early applicant, deferral is usually the result. The committee might find itself in this situation for a number of different reasons.


Often, being deferred is a sign that you’re 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, instead of the smaller early applicant pool alone.


Alternatively, the admissions committee may decide that they need to see more information about you in order to make a final decision. For example, suppose your grades weren’t great early in high school, but your academic performance has improved over time. The committee might want to wait for your first-semester senior year grades to confirm that upward trend before they accept you.


Some number of deferred students do end up getting accepted every year, but it’s difficult to say what one particular individual’s chance of acceptance might be. Your chances depend not only on your application, but on the strength of the whole applicant pool that year. Also, of course, competitive colleges attract more qualified applicants than they can admit, so there is some element of chance.


If you were a borderline applicant in the early application round, and nothing about your application has changed in the intervening weeks, it’s likely that you’ll also be a borderline applicant in the Regular Decision round. If you’re able to update your application in a way that substantially improves your applicant profile, you may have a better chance at admission.


Getting deferred is more than a little disheartening, but you can also see it as an opportunity. As we’ll go over in the next section, deferred applicants can usually submit updated information to improve their applicant profile. With a little work, you can both demonstrate your continued interest in the college and improve your chances of eventually being accepted.

What to Do Next: Your Deferral Action Plan

First of all, read your deferral notification carefully and make note of any specific instructions that your college provides. Be prepared to follow these instructions to the letter. Each school’s deferral procedures are slightly different, and following your school’s directions is essential to keep you in the running for admission.


Your next step will be to respond to your deferral notification. This may be optional, but either way, it’s something you should do — don’t just let your application dangle without informing the college that you’re still interested. 


Some schools have a form or online system that you’ll be required to use to respond to your deferral. Often, however, you’ll simply write a formal letter in which you demonstrate your continuing interest in attending that college and restate your reasons for believing you’re a great fit for the school.


Most colleges allow deferred students to submit some kind of update to their application in this letter, along with any necessary supporting documents. You probably started your early application way back in the fall, and colleges understand that you’ll have new information to share from the intervening months.


Schools differ in terms of exactly what updates they’ll accept for deferred applicants. Again, you’ll need to read and follow your college’s policies carefully. Make special note of what the school tells you not to send. For example, while a few schools may allow you to submit additional letters of recommendation, many do not.


At best, sending in supplemental information that you’ve been told not to send will have no benefit; most likely, no one will ever look at it. At worst, not following the college’s instructions, whether by accident or on purpose, can have an actively negative impact on your application. If you have any questions about what to submit, call the college’s admissions office and ask.


Barring any more specific instructions, a good general rule is to only submit information that’s both new and substantial. Focus on things that have happened since you submitted your application. Remember, the admissions office already has your completed application to consider, so you don’t want to simply repeat the information they already know.


Submit your application update promptly. You want to make sure that whenever the admissions committee reconsiders your application, they have access to the most up-to-date information. It’s best if this letter is succinct and restrained — hit the highlights, but don’t dwell on the details.


As with any communication with a college admissions office, being respectful and polite is a must. (We’ve covered this topic in our post Don’t Make These Mistakes on College Applications.) Focus on the positive reasons why you still believe yourself to be a good candidate, and leave out any assertion that the admissions committee made the wrong decision — you aren’t privy to the details of their considerations.


After being deferred, some students 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 your first time around. A prep course, a test-specific tutor (like those we offer at CollegeVine), or taking practice tests can help to make an additional round of testing worth the effort. Remember to have your official test scores sent directly to the college.


While you’re working on updates to your application, your guidance counselor (or similar high school official) will have a job to do as well. They’ll need to send in a Midyear Report detailing the final grades you received for the first semester of your senior year, and may also be able to comment on your recent notable achievements. While the counselor must fill out the form, it’s ultimately up to you to make sure the relevant deadlines are met.


Some colleges use the Midyear Report form made available by the Common App. Other colleges require you to submit their own school-specific form, which you may need to actually print out and bring to your guidance counselor. Talk to your counselor for a better idea of how to proceed and what information the counselor needs from you.


Depending on your situation, you may also need to update your financial aid application or provide other practical information to your school. For instance, if you changed your legal name, became a citizen of a new country, or moved to a different address, you’ll need to inform your school. If you’re unsure, call the admissions office — it’s better to ask than to leave incorrect information in your file.


Finally, of course, you’ll need to continue working on your applications to other colleges if you haven’t already submitted them. While early applicants are often tempted to put off other applications until after hearing back about their early application, this isn’t a wise choice, and a deferral may mean that you have to put in a lot of work in a relatively short time.


If it’s already too late to avoid leaving your applications until the last minute, don’t panic; just do the best you can with the time you have left. You can find some tips in our CollegeVine blog posts on How to Write a Last-Minute Essay and 5 Last-Minute FAQs for Common App Procrastinators.


Being deferred certainly isn’t the same as being rejected, and some deferred students are eventually accepted. Still, it pays not to bank too much on acceptance to one college, especially if it’s a competitive school. Continue exploring your options and making backup plans so that whatever happens, you’ll be prepared to face this next stage in your educational life.


More Resources

For more information about the deferral process, take a look at these posts on the CollegeVine blog:



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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.

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