College Guy: What to do if your application was deferred

  • Brennan Barnard

Published: 12/14/2020 3:10:33 PM

Question: My Early Decision application to college was deferred. What do I do now?

Answer: I have good news and bad news for you, but first let’s start by defining what we are talking about. When an early admission application is deferred, the school is essentially postponing its decision. Instead of admitting or denying your bid for admission, they are placing you in limbo to have your application reconsidered during regular decision review.

The good news is you are still in the game. Though disappointing, I encourage you to view this as an affirmative outcome, one that puts the ball back in your court to make your case. By deferring your application, a college is acknowledging that you are admissible and capable of being successful on their campus.

If you applied early to a college, whether through a binding Early Decision plan, a non-binding Early Action plan, or rolling admission, you might be bumped to a regular decision for a number of reasons. Perhaps your college has placed a limit on the percentage of students they will admit in the first round and there simply was not enough room for all the qualified applicants. Or maybe your academic performance is on an upward trend throughout high school and they want to see one more term of grades before making a final decision.

With non-binding applications, sometimes colleges will also defer a student because the applicant did not demonstrate a high level of interest (through attending virtual programs, interacting with the admission office, etc.) and the school wants to see how much you really want to attend before they admit you. The long and short of it is that colleges use deferrals as an enrollment management tool, so don’t despair.

The unfortunate reality of this outcome is that you now have more work to do. First and foremost, you should make sure you have applied to other colleges. This is a good time to review your college list with your school counselor to make sure you have a good range of schools, at varying degrees of selectivity, so you have options to choose from if your deferral ultimately results in a denial. Many colleges have regular decision deadlines at the start of the new year, so these next few weeks are critical. If you had another college that was top on your list, you might consider applying through the second round of Early Decision that some schools offer.

You will also want to take the next steps at the college where you were deferred. Though you might be frustrated by the outcome, do not discard the notice too quickly. Read it carefully and follow directions! If the college requests additional information to be added to your file, be sure to submit the appropriate materials. If you are directed not to send further documents, heed this advice.

Take advantage of any opportunities that you are given to reinforce your desire to attend that school. Some colleges will provide a form for you to indicate your continued interest. If not, a simple email to the admission office stating this will suffice. Likewise, if they offer you a chance to interview, take them up on it. Some schools will accept an additional recommendation or essay, but don’t go overboard and, again, follow the specific directions from the school.

At the very least, you’ll want to make sure they receive your updated grades and that you notify them of any awards, recognition or accomplishments that have happened since your original application.

Finally, a note on admission trends this year as they relate to deferrals. The Common App reported last week that while the number of applicants applying to college this year is down from last year, the total number of applications has increased–in other words, fewer students applying to larger lists of schools. This is especially pronounced at highly selective colleges, many of who saw double-digit increases in early applications. This is likely due to a number of pandemic related causes, chief of which is the move to test-optional policies. Students who in previous years might have realized that their SAT/ACT scores would keep them from being admitted are now emboldened to apply to schools that previously seemed out of reach.

This is all to say that this will be the year of the deferral–colleges are hedging their bets amidst great uncertainty.

Remember, control what you can control and don’t let an admission deferral or final decision ruin your holidays.

Brennan Barnard is the Director of College Counseling and Outreach at The Derryfield School and the College Admission Program Advisor at The Making Caring Common project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is co-author of the book, “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together.”

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