You made your list, picked out your dream-college, applied early, jumped through all the hoops, and now it’s the moment of truth. Envelope, please! And the answer is… maybe!?
Welcome to the ambiguous purgatory of a deferral. Some might even prefer a rejection to another couple months of anxious waiting. But deferred students are not powerless. By thinking like an admissions officer we can strategize how to turn that maybe into a yes!
What is a deferral?
A deferral is when an early decision applicant is pushed into the regular admissions pool. This happens when the admissions committee isn’t quite ready to render a final decision. Either they want to see more from the applicant, or they want to know more about the composition of the regular admissions pool.
Being deferred is different than being waitlisted. The waitlist is a maybe for regular decision applicants. If a school does not hit their target enrollment, they dip into the waitlist to fill the gap. Deferred students generally have better acceptance rates than those on the waitlist.
Early admission applicants have higher acceptance rates, especially at very selective schools. With more students applying ED/EA, a greater number of those eager applicants get deferred. Yale had a deferral rate of 30%, Columbia 60%, and Harvard deferred a record 80% for the class of 2025. So remember that getting deferred is more of the norm than the exception.
Why was I deferred?
If you were deferred, you likely have what it takes to get in. So congratulations, sort of. Elite schools simply don’t have room for every qualified applicant. Ivy league and top tier schools get so many qualified applicants they could build an equally great class from students they had to reject because there just wasn’t room.
In some cases the admissions department wants to see more from the student. Maybe they want to see more grades roll in. There might be some gaps in the application. This is a good time to look over your application, and re-read your essay(s). With a little distance, you might realize you haven’t told your story as effectively as you could. Get a fresh set of eyes on your application. We happen to know some former admissions officers who’d be happy to help!
Sometimes the deferral is not strictly about you, but instead about building a balanced class. Admissions officers seek a harmonious mix of students from different regions and backgrounds, with different intended majors and activities. There may be too many physics majors this year, or not enough athletes. The music department might have their pick of great violinists, but they need some flutes and cellos to make an orchestra.
Next steps for deferred students
Remember that a deferral is not a rejection, even if it’s not the answer you wanted. If you didn’t have the right stuff to get in, you would have gotten a rejection. Accept the deferral for what it is: an opportunity, not a crisis. And there are several things you can do to turn the odds more in your favor.
Show demonstrated interest
Admissions officers only make more work for themselves if they accept a student who doesn’t show up in the fall. So they often track all the signals that show a student will attend if accepted. This is demonstrated interest.
A deferred student should take every opportunity to reinforce those signals. Log on to the admissions portal and make sure you follow all the next steps promptly and correctly. Open any emails from the school. See if there’s an opportunity to visit the campus and make connections. Reach out to professors in your field of study with good questions. You don’t want to be pushy or inappropriate, but schools appreciate when you show interest.
Write your Letter of Continued Interest
Writing a Letter of Continued interest (LOCI) is usually your first order of business. It’s also your best opportunity to reinforce why you’re a terrific fit for the school. Check the admissions portal for guidelines on how to submit your letter. The only reason not to send a LOCI is if the college specifically tells you not to.
Perhaps out of fatigue or discouragement, a surprising number of applicants don’t complete this step, so already you’re setting yourself apart from the pack. After all, why would an admissions officer go to bat for someone who can’t be bothered to advocate for themselves?
A LOCI should be concise, compelling, and a bit more targeted than a personal statement. Throughout the application process you’ve been building your case for getting in. This is your closing argument. Further your case by showing that you know this school inside and out, and express how you plan to engage with this community if given the chance.
Do some more research by clicking around the school’s website. Think about the campus tour. Connect your story with specifics about the college to show how you’re a great fit. Maybe you were inspired by Johns Hopkins working with NASA on the DART mission. Maybe you want to study creative writing with Zadie Smith at NYU. Or maybe you just played Lady Macbeth at your high school and you’re excited about Carnegie Mellon’s drama program. Specific examples like these show admissions officers who you are, and why you belong in their next class.
Update the school on your progress
Grades are still the most important factor for getting in. Admissions departments may defer a student in order to see more grades when there is an uncertain academic trend. If you’re on an upward trajectory with your academic rigor, reinforce that in your letter. Let the school know what classes you’re excited about, and breakthroughs you’ve made.
Consider additional letters of recommendation
A counselor or teacher may be willing to write an additional recommendation, highlighting your continued progress. They may also be able to reinforce your enthusiasm for this particular school and intention to matriculate if accepted. The key is to choose someone who knows your journey well, and can convincingly present your unique value to the college.
You’ve invested so much to this point in your college admissions journey. So don’t let a deferral deflate you. If the school didn’t think you were worthy of admission, you would have been rejected. So take a moment to regroup, reassess, and finish strong no matter the ultimate outcome.
On the other hand, you may ultimately get a rejection. So it’s a good time to build some enthusiasm for the other wonderful schools on your list. Don’t get fixated on one outcome determining your future happiness. Life doesn’t work like that. There are many paths to success and it all depends on you, not one school or another.