The Ivy Coach Daily

November 2, 2023

Understanding College Deferrals

Students walk in a hallway of an academic hall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When your child applies Early Decision or Early Action to their dream school, you likely have in mind a certain scenario playing out: your child opens up their decision in mid-December and jumps for joy after they learn they’ve earned admission to an elite university!

But, in most instances, such a scenario doesn’t play out because, at America’s highly selective universities, most applicants are deferred or denied admission in the Early round. In fact, at some of America’s highly selective universities, over 90% of Early applicants are either deferred or denied admission. So what exactly does a deferral mean, and how can your child best position their post-deferral candidacy? Let’s dive in!

What a Deferral Means in Elite College Admissions

First, let’s distinguish what a deferral means in elite college admissions. Deferred students are neither accepted nor denied admission outright. Instead, the elite college to which they’ve applied has kicked the can down the road on their candidacy, saving a final decision until the Regular Decision round. Most of America’s elite universities release Regular Decision results in mid to late-March.

Not all Deferrals Are Created Equal

But not every deferral is created equal. Some schools, like Harvard University, for instance, defer most of their Early Action candidates. Meanwhile, other elite schools, like Stanford University, defer a much slimmer percentage of Early Action applicants. Stanford, historically, denies many more Early Action applicants than it defers.

Overall, across all highly selective universities, about 10% of students who are deferred in the Early round ultimately earn admission to that school in Regular Decision. That’s right. Most Early Decision / Early Action deferrals become Regular Decision denials.

Mistakes Students Make After Being Deferred

After learning of a deferral and wiping away those tears, the knee-jerk reaction of most applicants is to update the school on everything they’ve achieved in the six weeks or so since they first applied. Another common reaction is to do nothing. Neither approach is an approach we would ever recommend one of Ivy Coach’s students take. Why not?

The Bragging Approach Post-Deferral

What exactly has a student achieved in the six weeks since they submitted their Early application? And how is tooting their own horns going to inspire admissions officers to want to root for them? Such an approach is more likely to have the opposite effect of inspiring an admissions officer to root against an applicant. In most instances, it will confirm the admissions officer’s decision to kick the can on the applicant’s decision — so they can see just who they are in real-time. You see, an applicant’s true colors so often come out after receiving negative news.

The Do Nothing Approach Post-Deferral

And as to the students who choose to do nothing after a deferral, opting instead to focus on their Regular Decision schools without paying any more mind to the school that captured their hearts enough to merit an Early application? That’s crazy talk in our book!

After all, a student earmarked their super valuable Early card for that school — at the expense of using it on another school, and now they’re just going to throw in the towel? They’re not going to take the fight to their dream school? They’re going to give up that easily?

Such an approach also conveys to admissions officers just who the applicant is in real-time — and it sends a message they’re either lazy, didn’t genuinely love the school, and/or got a case of sour grapes.

What Students Should Do Post-Deferral

So what should students do after learning of a deferral? That’s easy. They need to act swiftly to submit a powerful Letter of Continued Interest that will ideally sway admissions officers at the school that kicked the can on their decision to offer them admission in the Regular Decision round.

But their Letter of Continued Interest should not be filled with brags and updates on all that they’ve achieved in the six weeks since they first applied. Instead, it should have a twofold purpose: it should reframe their narrative in as compelling of a way as possible and serve as a love letter to the school — filled with specific after specific of how a student will contribute their singular hook, rather than well-roundedness, to the school’s programs, institutes, culture, traditions, and activities.

Notice we didn’t encourage students to name-drop professors or list classes. The letter should not be approached like a game of Mad Libs in which a student substitutes out a professor or course from one school for a professor or course from another. Admissions officers, after all, weren’t born yesterday.

And when should the Letter of Continued Interest be submitted? In February or March? No! It should go in within a couple of days of receiving a deferral so that admissions officers don’t believe a student developed a case of sour grapes. Not to mention, that Letter should serve as the basis for how a student repositions their narrative (and their Why College essays) for their Regular Decision applications which are due around two weeks after a student learns of a deferral. So, speed matters!

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Post-Deferral Candidacy

If you’re interested in optimizing your child’s case for admission after their deferral, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to outline our services for deferred applicants — services which begin with a PostMortem application review and then include assistance brainstorming and revising a compelling Letter of Continued Interest that will give an applicant the best shot possible of earning admission to that school in the Regular Decision round.

Over the last 30 years, about 40% of students who have first come to us after receiving a deferral have earned admission to their dream Early Decision / Early Action school. So even we at Ivy Coach can’t give a deferred student a great chance — but we can quadruple their odds if they go it alone or hire another college counseling firm.

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