What to Do if College Admission is Deferred

By Lee Bierer

When students apply to college via Early Decision-ED (binding) or Early Action-EA (non-binding) programs there are earlier deadlines and earlier notification, usually by mid-December.

Most students expect one of two outcomes: acceptance or rejection. So, some students are surprised and confused when they receive a letter notifying them that they’ve been deferred.

Being deferred means that the college or university wants to compare your application to the other students applying regular decision. But being deferred means different things in different programs and at different schools.

According to Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admission at Duke University, “The hard truth is that if you applied early decision and were deferred, for most of you, unfortunately, the process is essentially over. Take a look at the defer letter – does it say what the admit percentage is for defers? If it does, take that number seriously.

“Keep that list of other colleges you’ve applied to close to your heart because the odds say you’re going to be choosing from among one of them.”

A deferral from an Early Action program, however, is very likely a more optimistic story altogether. Many colleges with EA programs defer a majority of their applicants, except the obvious acceptances and rejections. In that case, being deferred means that you still have a reasonable shot and there are things that you can do that might increase your odds.

What can you do?

Let them know you care. Make sure you respond to the deferral, either by following the instructions on the letter or by contacting your local admissions representative via email. It’s important to be judicious about your contact, i.e., don’t be a pest and don’t send superfluous information or gifts.

Communicate new, meaningful information. If you’ve had a new leadership role, improved test scores, an award, etc., share it with the admissions office.

Send a new letter of recommendation. If you have a new teacher this year who can write about your exceptional performance, ask them to address the specifics of why you’d be a good fit for that school.

Don’t be bitter. Trust me they know you’re upset, but you’ll serve yourself better in the end if you don’t come across as angry or depressed.

Don’t be desperate. Don’t make grand overtures of coming to visit the campus again, meeting or interviewing with staff members or requesting multiple unsolicited letters of recommendation.

Most importantly: Have a backup plan. Make sure your have some solid safety schools on your list and confirm that all your materials have safely arrived at each school (transcripts, application, test scores, letters of recommendation).

One commenter on the New York Times “The Choice” blog wrote, “To paraphrase what my grandfather used to say, ‘Colleges are like streetcars. There’ll be another one along in a few minutes.’ ”