Deferred? What To Do Next - College in 321

Deferred? What To Do Next

Written by Kathy deJong

January 12, 2021

Deferred? What To Do Next

As high school students anxiously await college application decisions, it’s good to be prepared for the results: acceptance, denial, or deferral. Acceptance and denial are pretty straightforward concepts – you’re either in or out. But what does it mean to be deferred? Why does it happen, and what can a student do to improve their chances of getting an acceptance letter?

It’s important to remember that a deferral is not a denial. Colleges will defer a student when they are unable to decide on the student’s application by the deadline the student applied under. There are a couple of potential reasons why a student may be deferred. 

First, the admissions team is not sure about the student’s position compared with other candidates that may apply during a later application deadline. The college may defer an early decision or early action applicant to see if there are stronger candidates in an early decision II or regular decision pool. 

Second, colleges and universities that receive an overwhelming number of applications (some up to 100,000 applications), may defer any student to a regular decision date because they don’t have time to review all of the applications in an early round. In this case, it’s hard to read whether a student is borderline for admittance, or they just haven’t got to the application yet. At some colleges, they will identify the cream-of-the-crop in an early round, accept them, and defer all others. 

Third, a student may be deferred if their application was not complete at the time of the application deadline. A missing recommendation, transcript, test score, or another application requirement may be reasons for deferral.

So how should a student proceed if they have been deferred? A student should first evaluate if they are still interested in the college or university. If they don’t have a continuing interest because they have been accepted to a college(s) that is higher on their list or because it just doesn’t suit their current needs, then no further action is required. If a student is still interested in the college, here are a few steps the student should take.

  1. Read the deferral notification carefully. Colleges may provide specific instructions for the applicant to be considered in a later decision round. 
  2. Determine if the college will accept additional materials to strengthen the student’s application. This may include something like mid-year grades. Important: only submit what is requested or permitted, nothing more. Some colleges will specifically state that they do not want any additional information from the student. In that case, there is nothing to do and contacting or submitting anything is not advised. 
  3. If a college does not specifically state that they will not accept or review a letter or additional materials, the student may want to consider submitting a no more than 1-page letter expressing their continued interest in the school, detailing why they believe they are a good fit for the college and outlining any significant updates that may increase the student’s standing. This may include:
    • A significant improvement in a test score
    • A distinguished award or achievement 
    • Improved 12-grade mid-year grades as compared to 11th grade


If the college is the student’s first choice, and they can honestly say that without hesitation, the student could state, “If I am accepted, I will attend.” This will show the college that this is definitely where they want to be.

A deferral is not the end. But it’s important to understand and follow the next-step instructions provided by the college. If there is an avenue to continue to express your interest – do it!


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