Yale University deferred 53% of applicants for the class of 2021 to regular decision out of 5086 students who applied “single-choice” early action this fall. Duke deferred 671 out of 3516 binding early decision candidates, while MIT deferred 5853 of its 8394 early action applicants.
Notre Dame deferred 893 out of 6020 Restricted Early Action (REA) candidates, while Georgetown deferred all students not accepted to a similar REA program to the spring review. Brown deferred 60% of 3170 early decision candidates to regular decision, at the same time Middlebury deferred about 9% of 673 early decision applicants.
Although each of these schools has its own enrollment management strategy for dealing with deferred students, it’s clear that way too many who applied early this fall are finding they’ve been neither accepted nor rejected, but deferred to the regular admissions pool.
And if you find yourself in this position, know that you’re not alone.
Because many colleges received record numbers of early applications, it stands to reason that unless acceptances increase, you have considerable company—mostly very disappointed.
But try to put the best face on your disappointment. Think of deferral as a kind of holding pattern. A college may be sending a signal it needs to know a little more about you before making a final decision. The admissions office may want to see your application in the context of the entire applicant pool or may simply want to see how well you’re continuing to do senior year.
You can also interpret the message as an opportunity to regroup or reconsider your application strategy. For some students, a deferral can be a wake-up call. Make sure you are applying to a solid mix of schools, including a sufficient number of colleges where there is a good or better likelihood you will be admitted.
If you continue committed to the college that deferred you, don’t despair. Although there are no guarantees, you can either respond to the challenge or wait for the next round of decisions to come out in the new year.
I recommend responding. And here’s how:
1. Do not crash—finish those applications. There’s no question this is a setback. It’s normal to feel disappointment, but don’t allow it to be crippling. Most importantly, don’t let this relatively minor bump in the road delay completion of the rest of your applications. Finish remaining essays as soon as possible and try to submit well in advance of due dates.
2. Understand and follow the rules. Before doing anything, be sure to review and understand deferral policies. Some colleges are quite clear that deferred applicants should not call, write, or send additional materials. Others will welcome communication. Know the policy and form a plan of action to appropriately address the deferral.
3. Contact Admissions. Try calling or emailing the admissions representative for your area. He or she most likely read your application and possibly remembers you. It’s a busy time of year for admissions, but if you’re lucky you might get personal feedback and a sense of how your application stacked up against the rest of the early pool. You might also get ideas on how to strengthen your candidacy by clarifying misunderstandings or by submitting additional test results, information, or recommendations. But whatever you do, resist the temptation to complain or badger the staff.
4. Update your application. Although colleges require that official midyear grades be sent directly by your high school, take the initiative to forward a copy of your semester grade report with a cover letter firmly restating your commitment to attend if admitted—only if that’s truly the case of course—along with as succinct statement as to why you think the college is the best fit for you. Include reference to any new and improved standardized test scores, additional leadership positions, new memberships, recent events or community service activities in which you have been involved, and any special awards you received. Consider sending an additional writing sample or essay. And feel free to add relevant supplementary information such as links to videos or newspaper articles. Remember colleges really only want to know what’s happened since you submitted your original application, so don’t rehash the past. And don’t snow them with paper. Be deliberate in what you send.
5. Consider a campus visit. If you haven’t already spoken with the area representative, try to make an appointment to meet sometime in January or February. This can be an opportunity to make your case for admission face-to-face. If the rep is not available, don’t be discouraged—it’s peak reading season and time is limited. Instead, visit a class, have lunch, and take a closer look at the campus. You may find subtle changes in your feelings about the school that open you to other possibilities.
6. Send another recommendation. If permitted, make arrangements to have another recommendation sent on your behalf. Look for someone who can speak to qualities other than those represented in recommendations the college already received. Consider asking a coach, your employer, a faculty sponsor for one of your membership organizations, or a senior year teacher who has gotten a chance to get to know you. Do not flood the admissions office with hundreds of additional recommendations. This won’t help.
7. Try retesting. If test scores appear to be a barrier to admission, try retaking either the SAT (January) or the ACT (February). Who knows? Your scores may improve significantly enough to make a difference in your admissions prospects.
8. Make academics your first priority. Now is the time to reveal your true character by working even harder to improve class standing. Don’t be lured into “senioritis.” Colleges on the fence about your candidacy will be impressed by a continued upward trend in grades.
9. Step-up community or school involvement. This is definitely NOT the time to quit participating in school- or community-based activities. Instead, you should seek out leadership opportunities and have a continued impact on your community. Colleges want to see a commitment to service that doesn’t just end because the paperwork was submitted.
10. Complete scholarship, financial aid and/or honors college applications. Don’t stop now. If the college has supplementary scholarship or honors college applications, make sure they are completed and submitted before deadline. Be aware that completing these documents—especially after a deferral—shows a significant level of continued interest.
11. Talk to your school counselor. Be sure to provide your counselor with the most up-to-date information on additional accomplishments that may be relevant to your application and ask for these accomplishments to be included along with midyear grades. If the college remains your first choice, suggest your counselor make this point somewhere on the form or possibly in a cover letter. In some cases, a call from your counselor to the admissions office will help, particularly if he or she has a strong relationship with the college.
12. Move on. Consider your deferral an opportunity to explore other options, including ED II at another school. It’s hard not to be miserable over a less-than-positive response to all the hard work you’ve put into being the best possible candidate for admission. But once you have done everything possible to persuade the college to admit, turn your attention elsewhere and don’t dwell on the negative. Even with this small detour, remain confident in your prospects.
Nancy Griesemer is an independent educational consultant and founder of College Explorations LLC. She has written extensively and authoritatively about the college admissions process and related topics since 2009.