What Does Deferred Mean and What To Do Next

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Learn a step-by-step approach to take after receiving a deferral.

If you happened to apply in the Early Action/Early Decision round of admissions and you received a deferral, it’s no reason to celebrate. Still, it’s no reason to be entirely discouraged. While you didn’t yet earn admission to the school of your dreams, you weren’t denied outright. Most highly selective universities will accept, defer, and deny Early applicants (there are exceptions like the University of Southern California for the Class of 2027, as the school denied no students in the Early Action round, deferring all who did not earn admission). So think on the bright side: you’re still in the running, and the decision could have been worse.

What is a Deferral in College Admissions?

A deferral, which applies to Early Action/Early Decision applicants, is a delayed verdict on your admissions decision. It’s essentially the college kicking the can down the road, putting off a final decision on your candidacy. While Early Action/Early Decision admits typically learn of their decision around mid-December (though some top public schools release EA decisions in late January and early to mid-February), deferred candidates learn their applications have been deferred at this time. A final verdict is typically rendered around mid to late March or April 1st unless the deferred candidates are subsequently waitlisted.

Admissions officers at most highly selective universities return their attention to the deferred pool of applicants after reviewing all Regular Decision candidates. The deferred pool re-review often takes place two weeks before Regular Decision notifications are released. At many elite universities, deferred candidates are evaluated by the entire admissions committee since, in many instances, a deferral meant one admissions officer was in the applicant’s corner, and one was not on the initial review.

Why Do Colleges Defer Applicants?

Colleges defer applicants for several reasons, but mostly because they’re businesses. When a student applies in early November, the college is in the dark about its institutional needs for the incoming class. In short, the school doesn’t yet know whether it will receive a large and competitive Regular Decision applicant pool. Instead of denying these students outright, they essentially keep their candidacies alive if they need them to fill seats in the incoming class.

Beyond institutional needs, colleges can defer applicants because they wish to see the candidate’s grades from the fall semester. Or, if it’s a legacy candidate, it could be a courtesy deferral since colleges don’t like alums to think they didn’t at least strongly consider their children.

3 Key Things to Do After Being Deferred

  1. Write a compelling Letter of Continued Interest. This letter should not contain updates on all you’ve achieved since you first applied several weeks ago. Instead, it should be a love letter to the school, showcasing how you will contribute your singular hook to the school’s unique programs, institutes, culture, traditions, activities, and so much more. Ideally, the letter should be submitted within a few days of the deferral, so admissions officers know you don’t have sour grapes.
  2. Bring your Letter of Continued Interest to your school counselor and ask your counselor to make an advocacy call on your behalf. With the letter in hand, your counselor will better know how to position you to admissions officers. While some school counselors will not make advocacy calls, often citing that it’s unfair to fight for some students and not others, that’s nonsense. School counselors should be fighting for all their students. It’s their job.
  3. Consider sending in an additional letter of recommendation from a teacher in a core subject: English, history, math, science, or a foreign language. Note we didn’t suggest sending in an additional letter of recommendation from a famous person!

3 Things Not to Do After Being Deferred

  1. Refrain from calling or asking to meet with an admissions officer to find out why your candidacy was deferred. Admissions officers do not wish to speak with deferred candidates. If you still need to visit the school, visit to further demonstrate your interest in attending. But, on your visit, don’t ask to meet with an admissions representative. If you happen to run into your rep, say a quick hello. But don’t be a gadfly!
  2. Do not send a series of updates on all your achievements in the weeks since you first applied. If you are named a Regeneron semifinalist, that’s a worthy update — ideally from a student’s school counselor. But winning your school’s Scholar-Athlete award doesn’t make the cut. Such updates can risk rendering a deferred applicant unlikable.
  3. Do not write directly to the Dean of Admissions. We can’t tell you how often parents and students wish to go above the heads of the regional representatives. “May I speak to your supervisor” doesn’t work in elite college admissions.

What Are a Deferred Student’s Chances of Admission?

As a rule of thumb, across most highly selective universities, about 10% of students whose admission is deferred in the Early Action/Early Decision round ultimately earn admission in Regular Decision. Historically, at Ivy Coach, about 40% of students who first come to us after a deferral end up earning admission to their Early school.

College Deferral Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to know if I was deferred because I’m a legacy?

No, there is no way of knowing if you were deferred because you’re a legacy. But legacies are rarely denied. It doesn’t make financial sense for a college not to let parents — who often donate money to the institution — think their child was strongly considered.

Should I be focused on my Early school that deferred my admission or my Regular Decision schools?

It would be best if you focused on your Early school that deferred your admission and your Regular Decision schools. Why cut bait on a school for which you earmarked your Early card? But, you also need to discern what went wrong with your Early application to avoid repeating mistakes in the Regular Decision round. It’s why Ivy Coach offers a PostMortem for deferred candidates before our assistance in crafting a powerful Letter of Continued Interest.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance for Deferred Candidates

If you’re a deferred candidate seeking to optimize your case for admission, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to discuss our PostMortem and Letter of Continued Interest assistance.

 
 

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