So You’ve Been Deferred… Now What?
Ed note: On December 24th, we’ll be airing a radio show that discusses next steps for students who have been deferred. Tune in to Getting In: A College Coach Conversation for even more guidance on how to respond to a deferral.
Whether you were deferred from your first choice school or one of your safeties, receiving a deferral can feel worse than an outright rejection. You want to hold out hope that you’ll be accepted come spring, but you can’t help but feel you should simply move on and accept the inevitable. In a few days’ time, when your feelings aren’t so raw and you can think about your remaining college options with a bit more clarity, follow the steps below to improve your chances of acceptance after being deferred.
Step 1: Reevaluate Your College List
Look at the remaining options on your college list. Are they too reach/challenge-heavy? Do you have enough target and safety schools on your list? Might it be beneficial to apply to a less selective college or two to increase your options? Use the deferral as a reality-check. Admission to college is competitive and well-deserving students are routinely deferred because of supremely qualified applicant pools. If you’re concerned that you may have overestimated your chances at the majority of the schools on your list, there’s still time to conduct a little more research and apply to few more choice schools.
Step 2: Follow Up With the Admissions Office
In mid-January, once colleges are knee-deep in regular decision applications, give the admissions office a call. Ask to speak to the counselor in charge of your application and (in your absolutely most charming and polite persona) inquire if there’s anything you can do to strengthen your application. While you’ll likely be given the standard, “It was a very competitive pool” line, it’s possible that the admissions office will be candid and suggest that you follow-up with additional grades, extra writing samples, updates to your activities resume, or even another letter of recommendation.
Note: If your high school guidance counselor is willing, he or she may also be able to make this call on your behalf. Admissions officers are often likely to be more forthcoming with guidance counselors than they are with students or parents directly. Be mindful that your guidance counselor will be busy with other students’ regular decision applications; ask politely and give lots of notice.
Step 3: Write Your College a Love Letter
If you truly love the school and want to stand out among the sea of other deferred applicants this spring, sit down and think critically about why you are such a good match for College X, and vice versa. As an admissions officer at Barnard, I was always surprised to re-review a deferred file in March and not find a single new piece of information added to the folder. If the student hadn’t tried to make a stronger case for herself, how could I advocate for her acceptance after a deferral? Your letter should be sincere, sweet, and succinct. Thank the admissions committee for continuing to review your application. Explain why College X is your top (or one of your top) choices, and provide them with any significant updates relating to your academic or extracurricular achievements. Keep your tone positive, light, and upbeat. Any touch of bitterness will not be appreciated by the admissions committee! When is the best time to send this Love Letter? We’ll make it easy for you: right around February 14th.
Note: Many colleges will offer prompts for you to provide additional information. Stanford, for example, asks that you respond succinctly to three specific questions (with a word limit!). Stay within the confines of what a college requests, if applicable. Demonstrating an ability to follow directions is part of this!
Step 4: Consider a Special Approach for Your “Just Right” or “No Problem” Schools
In the past few days I’ve already heard several parents fret over their son or daughter getting deferred from a college they considered to be a target or safety school. “It makes no sense! Why would a school defer an applicant who is overqualified?” For better or worse, colleges pay close attention to their “yield,” the percentage of students who are accepted and choose to attend that particular institution. If colleges routinely accept overqualified students who have no real intention of attending (because they are using the college as a backup or safety option), they’ll find themselves with a lower and, therefore less attractive, yield. As a result, many colleges choose to defer top students whom they feel may not be genuinely interested in enrolling. Students who follow up with steps one and two above and demonstrate a desire to matriculate will have a far better chance of being accepted in the spring than students who sit back and do nothing.
In the end, you’ll want answers and we’re sorry to say you’ll just have to wait to get them. That’s got to be the hardest part about being deferred. You might immediately wonder how many students are accepted in regular decision after being deferred? This, of course, varies from school to school. In the spring of 2015, just over 5 percent of students who were deferred from MIT were later accepted in the regular decision round. At many public and less selective private schools across the country, well over half of deferred students are eventually offered admission for the following fall. So keep that chin up and your spirits strong. A deferral does not equal a rejection. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to challenge yourself to identify other college options that may be equally strong fits. There’s more than one college out there that can make you truly happy.