The Ivy Coach Daily

February 9, 2023

What To Do After Being Deferred by Harvard

A panoramic of Harvard College's campus, featuring greenery.
Learn the game plan for how to optimize your case for admission to Harvard after a deferral.

Was your child deferred from Harvard College in the Early Action round? Do you want to ascertain your child’s chances of admission in the Regular Decision round post-deferral? Curious to know the best game plan for your child after receiving Harvard’s deferral notification?

If so, you’ve come to the right place to learn what a Harvard deferral means and what a deferred student should do after learning Harvard kicked the can on their admissions decision.

What Percentage of Early Action Applicants Does Harvard Typically Defer?

While the percentage of students Harvard defers each Early Action cycle can vary, for the Harvard Class of 2028, 83.06% were deferred. The previous year, for the Harvard Class of 2027, 78% of applicants were deferred. Some years Harvard chooses to release the data point, while other years, the Ivy League schools keeps it close to the vest. But, historically, most students not offered admission to Harvard’s incoming class in the Early Action round are deferred rather than denied outright.

Harvard Defers Too Many Early Action Applicants

We’ve long argued at Ivy Coach that Harvard, and many elite universities, defer too many Early applicants. After all, if only around 10% of Early applicants will ultimately earn admission in Regular Decision, it makes little sense that the school would need to string so many students along. Instead, the school should outright reject these applicants so they can move on and set their sights on their new dream schools.

But, of course, Harvard strings these students along to keep their options open. In the unlikely event the Regular Decision pool is small or weak, Harvard has over 7,000 deferred applicants to fill seats. And these students, if admitted, will likely want to attend Harvard even more now after their deferrals since Harvard played so hard to get.

What Percentage of Early Action Applicants Does Harvard Typically Deny?

While the percentage of students Harvard denies each Early Action cycle can vary, for the Class of 2028, 7.7% were rejected outright. The previous year, for the Class of 2027, 9.5% of applicants were denied admission. Some years Harvard chooses to release the data point, while other years, the Ivy League schools keeps it close to the vest because they don’t distinguish the deferred candidates from the denied candidates in their data. But, historically, most students not offered admission to Harvard’s incoming class in the Early Action round are deferred rather than denied.

What Percentage of Early Action Applicants Does Harvard Typically Accept?

For the Class of 2028, 8.74% of Harvard’s Early Action applicants earned admission — the highest EA admission rate since the Class of 2024. Below you will find Harvard’s Early Action admission rate for each year, dating back to the 2002-2003 admissions cycle for the Class of 2007. You’ll note one indisputable trend: a shrinking percentage of admitted students.

Admissions CycleHarvard Graduating ClassHarvard’s Early Action Admission Rate
2023-2024Class of 20288.74%
2022-2023Class of 20277.56%
2021-2022Class of 20267.87%
2020-2021Class of 20257.4%
2019-2020Class of 202413.9%
2018-2019Class of 202313.4%
2017-2018Class of 202214.5%
2016-2017Class of 202114.5%
2015-2016Class of 202014.9%
2014-2015Class of 201916.5%
2013-2014Class of 201821.1%
2012-2013Class of 201718.4%
2011-2012Class of 201618.2%
2010-2011Class of 2015n/a*
2009-2010Class of 2014n/a*
2008-2009Class of 2013n/a*
2007-2008Class of 2012n/a*
2006-2007Class of 201121.8%
2005-2006Class of 201020.8%
2004-2005Class of 200921%
2003-2004Class of 200823.3%
2002-2003Class of 200715.1%

What Should Applicants Do After Being Deferred by Harvard?

PostMortem Application Review

After receiving word of a deferral from Harvard, we recommend swiftly completing Ivy Coach’s PostMortem application review. During this PostMortem, we:

Common Mistakes Addressed During Ivy Coach’s PostMortem

Suppose your child made any of the following mistakes, which are definitely not exhaustive, in the Early Action / Early Decision round. In that case, it’s time to take corrective action for the Regular Decision round:

In their Personal Statement, they penned an essay about music, music, community service, their grandparents, or travel worldwide.
They didn’t write the optional Covid essay. No optional essay in college admissions should ever be considered optional. It’s an opportunity for the student to tell their story further!
In a Why College essay, they name-dropped professors or classes. Or they wrote generic sentences that could apply to any school in America (“I want to go to Dartmouth because of its beautiful campus, intimate class sizes, wonderful professors, and diverse student body.”). Admissions officers weren’t born yesterday! They know students can cut and paste those sentences for almost any school.
They bragged about the number of hours they volunteered at each activity in the activities section (hours per week should be on the left-hand column, not in the valuable description). Students should preserve the words in the description to include small details about each activity.
Their activities section included a mix of sports, tutoring, and music — rendering them well-rounded. It should be the opposite of their objective.
They tooted their own horn about their activities in their essays, which will only come across as selling: admit me, admit me! There’s no need for students to incorporate all of their activities in their storytelling.
They applied to a school that was an impossible dream, and their Regular Decision list is more of the same. It’s time for a reality check. At Ivy Coach, we tell it like it is — whether students and their parents want to hear it or not.

Write a Letter of Continued Interest

What a Letter of Continued Interest Should Do

A Letter of Continued Interest should be designed as a glowing love letter to the school. It should be brimming with specifics of how a student hopes to contribute their singular hook — whatever that singular hook might be — to the institution’s culture, traditions, programs, institutes, activities, and so much more.

If a student did not frame their narrative powerfully in their initial application, which is all too common, it’s a chance to reframe their narrative. But the letter cannot just be a Personal Statement. It must contain specifics that only apply to the college that deferred their candidacy. It should be a portrait of the student actively engaged on the campus, contributing their singular hook to the school’s pertinent offerings.

But we know you want more specifics on what to include in a Letter of Continued Interest. We’re sorry to disappoint. The secret sauce of Ivy Coach’s Letters of Continued Interest is a delicious, secret family recipe.

What a Letter of Continued Interest Should Not Do

No matter what you read online, a Letter of Continued Interest should be devoid of brags or updates. That’s for the school counselor to relay to the admissions office — not for students to relay. No one likes a braggart. Inserting brags and updates in the Letter of Continued Interest will generally render the student less likable. It should also not contain a list of schools to which the applicant has already gained admission, as that will only lead admissions officers to dislike the student strongly (who would root for that student?). And it should not begin with, “My name is…” A Letter of Continued Interest should not be uncreative!

When Applicants Should Submit Their Letters of Continued Interest

Deferred applicants should submit a Letter of Continued Interest within a few days of their deferral. If deferral notifications go out on December 15th, we encourage students to submit their Letters of Continued Interest by December 20th.

And while submitting right away is preferable (we believe in the primacy effect of social psychology, and we want Harvard’s admissions officers to know the student doesn’t have sour grapes), if students are slow to prepare their Letters of Continued Interest, we prefer they not submit them in the few days leading up to Christmas or between Christmas and New Year’s. We would rather they upload them a few days into the New Year.

How Applicants Can Submit Their Letters of Continued Interest

The letter should be uploaded to Harvard’s portal. There’s no need to email it since Harvard’s admissions committee prefers any update or letter be uploaded to the deferred candidate’s portal.

Chances of Getting into Harvard After Being Deferred

Historically, about 10% of students who Harvard defers ultimately earn admission in Regular Decision. While this data point can vary from year to year, it’s rarely released by the school. But, over the years, Ivy Coach’s sources in Harvard’s admissions office have confirmed that 10% is the general rule of thumb. That figure has remained relatively consistent over the last decade.

A Harvard Deferred Student’s Chances Improve with Ivy Coach

For students who first come to Ivy Coach after a deferral by Harvard, historically, about 40% earn admission to Harvard in Regular Decision. This means that the majority — 60% — still do not get in. It’s why we only take on students after a deferral from Harvard if they fully understand that their chances aren’t strong and all we can do is give them the best chance possible. If that’s not enough for them, we’d much prefer they seek help elsewhere.

In the rare instances (4 times in the last 30 years) in which Ivy Coach’s Early Action applicants — students who completed applications with Ivy Coach and applied EA to Harvard — did not all earn admission to the Ivy League school as they did in 26 of those 30 years, 48% of our own deferred students earn admission in Regular Decision. So it’s slightly higher than for students who first come to us after a deferral.

Frequently Asked Questions about Harvard Deferrals

If Harvard defers so many students, does my child really have a chance?

Harvard does not rank its deferred students. So there is no way of knowing if your child has a legitimate chance of earning admission in the Regular Decision round.

But your child earmarked their Single Choice Early Action card for Harvard, so to give up after a deferral defies logic. And doing nothing is giving up. If a deferred student hopes to earn admission during Regular Decision, they should submit a compelling Letter of Continued Interest.

If I’m a Harvard legacy, could my child’s deferral be a courtesy deferral?

Absolutely. Rarely are legacies denied admission. After all, it doesn’t behoove a college to lead an alum to think they didn’t even strongly consider their child. But, just like with the rest of the deferred applicants, there’s no way of knowing with certainty if your child was a courtesy deferral.

Should my child send in a video instead of a Letter of Continued Interest? Would that be more creative?

No, Harvard does not want to see a video. Also, don’t take out advertisements on buses either. Some deferred students do some crazy things in the hope of getting some attention after a deferral — but, if history is any guide, it’s doubtful to work. The letter is the way to go. Your child can demonstrate creativity in their approach to the letter. After all, just because a student submits a letter doesn’t mean that letter is any good. It’s all about the quality of that letter!

Beyond submitting the Letter of Continued Interest, should my child wage a campaign to the Harvard admissions committee to stand out further?

No, your child should not annoy Harvard’s admissions committee. Instead, they should use their one opportunity to speak through the Letter of Continued Interest and use it wisely. But it’s not about the frequency of contact. It’s not about bombarding admissions officers with bi-weekly emails or regularly scheduled updates to your child’s portal. We’re all for the school counselor calling Harvard’s admissions office to lobby on your child’s behalf, but we’re not for your child pestering admissions officers. It will not serve their case for admission.

Should my child have realistic expectations and focus their attention on the Regular Decision schools?

Yes and no. There’s no choice to be made here. Your child should focus on submitting the best applications possible to their Regular Decision schools. Still, they should also focus on submitting a compelling Letter of Continued Interest to Harvard. Why cut bait after your child applied to Harvard Early Action over all other private universities?

Getting Started with Ivy Coach After Harvard Deferral

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s help optimizing your child’s case for admission in Regular Decision to Harvard after receiving a deferral, fill out our free consultation form. We’ll then be in touch.

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