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What To Do If You Were Deferred

You applied early to your top choice school and the news back wasn’t what you wanted to hear. You were deferred. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Let us guide you through the steps to respond to this college admission decision. 


Colleges can respond to your early application with a number of decisions: accepted, rejected, or deferred.  A deferral is when a school postpones making a decision about a student’s application and pushes it off until the regular round where they will take another look. Students can be deferred for any number of reasons:

  • The school received more early applications than anticipated, and this year there have definitely been more early applications as you can see from our prior post. (link)
  • The applicant’s scores were low, yes even during COVID some schools have the luxury of still reviewing scores and yes, some students had scores to submit.
  • Perhaps grades weren’t quite high enough and the school wants to see more data before pulling the YES trigger.  
  • For non-binding early action schools, a low level of demonstrated interest could be the reason it was a deferral – they weren’t convinced that if they gave that applicant a seat he/she would actually accept.
  • Admissions officers might have been looking for more high impact extras and are waiting to see what the student might add to his/her achievements.
  • They couldn’t figure out the student’s academic niche – application was not specific enough. We are happy to help you refine this in your follow up to the school in our Deferral Program.
  • The student was a legacy, but not up to the school’s standards so it was a “courtesy deferral” vs a full-on rejection which well-connected families wouldn’t like much.
  • The applicant was swept up in the media’s portrayal of NO STANDARDIZED TESTS THIS YEAR and thought he/she could get into Harvard just because he/she was a top student.  Takes a lot more than that to get in


Schools typically accept only 5-10 percent of students they deferred. And though early round admission rates are much better than regular they are still extremely competitive. For instance, Harvard’s early acceptance rate is typically around 13% versus 3% in the regular round.

For very top schools, admissions is competitive in both early and regular

If you are deferred, reflect on our above list and have a reality check with yourself. Why do you think you were deferred? There are still plenty of things you can do to increase your odds of admission during the regular round. If you do nothing, however, chances are your results will be an ultimate denial. We’ve laid out some action items for deferred students below.


Hopefully your deferral will serve as a reminder to go back and review everything you have in place for your regular applications.  In addition, begin to work on the following:

  1. Kick into gear to bring up grades. Grades are the most important factor in admissions decisions, so you’ll want to finish the semester with the strongest grades possible. Now is not the time for senioritis. Put a pause on your video game habit and double down on studying. 
  2. Review opportunities to retake or take standardized tests. Were you shut out of spring and summer Subject Tests? Need to retake the ACT? Don’t assume just because of COVID you get a free pass on testing.  If testing sites are open in your area, take the tests. 
  3. Pursue any last-minute contests, articles to publish or other ways to stand out in your area of expertise. Schools want to brag about their incoming freshman class.  Make yourself brag worthy by going the extra mile in something you’ve already begun. Let us know if we can help you identify some ways to do so.
  4. Find out why. Ask your counselor at school to call the school and find out any information he or she can about why you were deferred. Were items missing from your application? Did the school see a huge rise in applicants from your state? Not all counselors will do this, but it’s worth the ask. Best case is that he/she can advocate for you on the call, in addition to finding out what happened.
  5. Get another recommendation. Have you spent the semester taking a college course, or doing research with a local professor? If so, ask him/her to write a recommendation on your behalf.  How about a senior year teacher who knows you well?  Another recommendation is definitely in order.   Make sure to stick to one recommendation only, though! You don’t want to overwhelm the admissions office.
  6. Follow the rules.  It goes without saying that you want to review each school’s deferral policy.  MIT, for instance, does not require a student to opt into being reviewed again in the regular round. 

By mid-January (or whenever first semester grades come out), submit the following materials to the admissions officer covering your area (always reviewing their policies, however):

  1. A one-page deferral letter that includes:
    • Updates on grades, awards, standardized test scores, extracurriculars
    • Details on why they are your first choice.  Be specific and focus on your academic match. 
  2. An updated school transcript that includes your fall-semester grades
  3. One letter of support from a senior-year teacher, if applicable


  1. Advocate for yourself, but don’t become a pest. It’s okay to send a deferral letter to the admissions officer covering your area; it’s not okay to stake out his or her office for the next few weeks.
  2. Consider an Early Decision 2 option and perhaps adding more schools to your regular list.
  3. Stay confident. While this feels like a gut punch, rise up and keep on refining your application package based on what you now know.

Review our Deferral Program and let us guide you. Time is critical, however, and we work with a limited number of students so call us quickly.

Early Decision Insider Tips

Class of 2025: Early Decision and Early Action Notification Dates

Even with the many changes COVID-19 has brought to the college admissions landscape, there is one constant that remains for our seniors. ‘The early bird catches the worm.’ The odds go up in the early round and hopefully you have strategically utilized early action and early decision this year.   

Amid the chaos, let us be your one-stop shop for important notification information. We’ve compiled the most up-to-date listing of early decision and early action notification dates for you. Sit back, relax and let the admissions letters (acceptances we hope) roll in!

Notice a school of interest not listed? Simply let us know in the comments and we’ll gather the information for you and post.


Amherst CollegeDecember 15th
Babson CollegeEDI/EA: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February
Barnard CollegeDecember 14th
Bates CollegeEDI: by December 20th; EDII: by February 15th
Boston CollegeEDI: December 15th; EDII: February 15th
Bowdoin CollegeEDI: December 11th; EDII: Mid-February
Boston UniversityEDI: December 15th; EDII: February 15th
Brown UniversityMid-December
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)EA: Mid-December
Carnegie Mellon UniversityED: December 15th
Claremont McKenna CollegeEDI: December 15th; EDII: February 15th
Colby CollegeEDI: on or before Dec. 15th; EDII: on or before Feb. 15th
Colgate UniversityEDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February to Mid-March
Columbia UniversityDecember 16th
Connecticut CollegeEDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February
Cornell UniversityDecember 17th, 7pm ET
Dartmouth CollegeDecember 16th
Duke UniversityMid-December
Emerson CollegeEDI/EA: Mid-December; EDII/EAII: by February 1st
Emory UniversityEDI: December 9th, 6pm ET; EDII: by February 15th
Georgetown UniversityDecember 15th
Harvard UniversityDecember 17th
Harvey Mudd CollegeEDI: mailed December 15th; EDII: mailed February 15th
Haverford CollegeEDI: December 15th; EDII: February 15th
Johns Hopkins UniversityEDI: December 11th; EDII: February 15th
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyMid-December
Middlebury CollegeEDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February
New York University
EDI: December 15th; EDII: February 15th
Northwestern UniversityMid-December
Pomona CollegeEDI: by December 15th; EDII: by February 15th
Rice Universityby mid-December
Stanford UniversityDecember 15th
Swarthmore CollegeOnline Mid-December 
Tufts UniversityEDI: December 15th, 7pm EST; EDII: mid-February
Tulane UniversityED: by December 15th; EA: January 15th
University of ChicagoEA/EDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February
University of MichiganEA: late January
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillby end of January
University of PennsylvaniaED: December 16th
University of South CarolinaEA: Mid-December
University of VirginiaED: Mid-December; EA: aim to release by Mid-February
Vanderbilt UniversityEDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February
Villanova UniversityEA: evening of January 29th; EDI: by December 15th; EDII: by March 1st
Wake Forest UniversityEDI: Rolling; EDII: approximately February 15th
Washington University in St. LouisEDI: December 15th; EDII: February 14th
Wellesley CollegeEDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February 
Wesleyan UniversityEDI: Mid-December; EDII: Mid-February
Williams Collegeevening of December 11th ET
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteEAI: January 15th; EAII: March 1st; EDI: December 15th; EDII: February 15th
Yale UniversitySCEA: December 16th
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Early Action and Early Decision Deadlines Looming

An early application is a sure-fire way to boost your chances of admission, especially if you have great grades and top scores that are in range for the schools on your college list. If you’ve read our blog posts and admissions books, you know that your odds go way up when you apply in a binding Early Decision program. Don’t believe us? Just take a look at the early decision stats that we collect and post each year. Your odds of admission were about three times greater if you applied early versus regular to Brown, Columbia, and Duke. At Dartmouth, the early decision admit rate was four times greater.

Although not the case for every early action school, there are certainly clear statistical benefits to applying early action as well.  At Harvard, your chances were five times greater last year if you applied early action than waiting until the regular round. Yale and Notre Dame applicants had more than double the rate of admission if they applied under early action. Overall, keep in mind that early decision gives a much better boost compared to early action across the board – that is the reward for a student willing to commit to a school.


Keep in mind that the reasons the admit rates trend higher in early at top private schools is that applicants with hooks (recruited athletes, legacies, VIP’s, underrepresented minority students) tend to get even more of an admission boost if they apply early. Are you an unhooked applicant? You will still benefit from a more thoughtful review as applicant pools are notably smaller and admissions staffs are not completely overwhelmed with applications to read. Plus you are read against a backdrop of many recruited athletes, legacies and borderline applicants so you may shine brighter against a dimmer background. Overall, regular applicant pools tend to be stronger.

These early deadlines are drawing near so we’ve made it easy for you and listed the specific dates for some top schools. Create your own spreadsheet and get organized. This is a critical time for you, seniors. Leverage the early round and up your odds.


CollegeEarly Deadline(s)
American UniversityEDII: 1/15/21
Amherst CollegeED: 11/16/20
Babson CollegeEDI and EA: 11/1/20EDII: 1/2/21
Barnard CollegeED: 11/1/20
Bates CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Baylor UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Bentley UniversityED: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/7/21
Boston CollegeEA: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Boston UniversityEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Bowdoin CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/5/21
Brandeis UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Brown UniversityED: 11/1/20
Bryn Mawr CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
BucknellEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/15/21
CalTechEA: 11/1/20
Carelton CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Carnegie Mellon UniversityED: 11/1/20; EA (juniors) 1/1/21
Case Western ReserveEDII: 1/15/21
Claremont McKennaEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/5/21
Colby CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Colgate UniversityEDI: 1/15/21; EDII: 1/15/21
College of the Holy CrossEDII: 1/15/21
College of William and MaryEDII: 1/1/21
Colorado CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Columbia UniversityED: 11/1/20
Connecticut CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/15/21
Cornell UniversityED: 11/16/20
Dartmouth CollegeED: 11/1/20
Davidson CollegeEDII: 1/4/21
Denison CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Dickinson CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/15/21
Duke UniversityED: 11/16/20
Emerson CollegeEDI/EA: 11/1/20
Emory UniversityEDI: 11/1/20 EDII: 1/1/21
Fairfield UniversityEDII: 1/15/21
Franklin and Marshall CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
George Washington UniversityEDII: 1/5/21
Georgetown UniversityEA: 11/1/20
Gettysburg CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Grinnell CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Hamilton CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Hampshire CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Harvard UniversityREA: 11/1/20
Harvey Mudd CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/5/21
Haverford CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Hobart and William Smith CollegesEDII: 1/15/21
Johns Hopkins UniversityED: 11/2/20; EDII: 1/4/21
Kenyon CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Lafayette CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Lake Forest CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Lehigh UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Macalaster CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Middlebury CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/1/21
MITEA: 11/1/20
Muhlenberg CollegeEDII: 2/1/21
New York UniversityEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Northeastern UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Northwestern UniversityED: 11/1/20
Oberlin CollegeEDII: 1/2/21
Occidental CollegeEDII: 2/1/21
Pitzer CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Pomona CollegeEDI: 11/15/20; EDII: 1/8/21
Rice UniversityED: 11/1/20
Rochester Institute of TechnologyEDII: 1/1/21
Santa Clara UniversityEDII: 1/7/21
Sarah Lawrence CollegeEDII: 1/2/21
Scripps CollegeEDII: 1/5/21
Sewanee: University of the SouthEDII: 1/15/21
Skidmore CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Smith CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Southern Methodist UniversityEDII: 1/15/21
Stanford UniversityREA: 11/1/20
Stonehill CollegeEDII: 2/1/21
Stevens Institute of TechnologyEDII: 1/15/21
SwarthmoreED: 11/15/20; EDII:1/4/21
Syracuse UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Trinity CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
Trinity UniversityEDII: 2/1/21
Tufts UniversityEDI: 11/17/20; EDII: 1/1/21
Tulane UniversityEA: 11/15/20; EDI: 11/1/20
Union CollegeEDII: 1/15/21
University of ChicagoEA/EDI: 11/2/20; EDII: 1/4/21
University of MiamiEDII: 1/1/21
University of MichiganEA: 11/15/20
UNC Chapel HillEA: 10/15/20
University of PennsylvaniaED: 11/1/20
University of RichmondEDII: 1/1/21
University of RochesterEDII: 1/20/21
University of South CarolinaEA: 10/15/20
University of VirginiaEDI/EA: 11/1/20
Vanderbilt UniversityEDI: 11/1/20 EDII: 1/1/21
Vasser CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Villanova UniversityEA/ED: 11/15/20: EDII: 1/15/21
Wake Forest UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Washington and Lee UniversityEDII: 1/1/21
Washington U. St. LouisEDI: 11/1/20; EDII: 1/2/21
Wellesley CollegeEDII: 1/1/21
Wesleyan UniversityEDII: 1/15/21
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteEDII: 1/15/21
Yale UniversitySCEA: 11/1/20


Be sure to finalize your Early Decision II and/or Regular round essays and have them locked and loaded in your online application accounts (UC Application, Common App, etc.). We can help you with your application and your essays immediately via our Common App 911 and Essay Guidance packages! Don’t miss the opportunity to leverage yourself, your essays and your application.


It is your responsibility to ensure every piece of your application has been submitted INCLUDING what your high school is supposed to submit. CHECK the specifics for your early round colleges as policies vary by school and then do your due diligence to ensure all of your ducks are in a row. It’s imperative you stay on top of this important administrative piece to your application. After all, your school won’t get deferred because a document was missing, YOU will.

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Why Early Decision Still Makes Sense for Many Students

Post by: Dr. Michele Hernandez

We’ve had vigorous debates on this blog and with students and parents about the merits of early decision. As a brief primer, both early action and early decision have early November deadlines, but early action is NON binding (you do not have to say “yes”) while early decision is binding (you have to say “yes” and withdraw any other applications). The confusing thing is that HarvardYale, and Stanford have a “single choice/restrictive” early action policy (non-binding but you can only apply to state schools or international schools as back up) while the other five Ivies all have normal early decision. Princeton for this cycle is not doing any early round at all which throws a wrench into the scene.


As you can see from the tables below, early decision acceptance rates are 3 to 4 times higher than regular only acceptance rates while early action acceptance rates are higher, but not by as big a margin with the exception of MIT. The one thing that is indisputable is that regular only admittance rates are super low from 2-3% at Stanford (which didn’t give out exact numbers from this cycle so we are guesstimating) and Harvard to a “high” of 6-7%. Looking at just the numbers, there is a clear advantage to applying early action/early decision at every school. But as many perceptive readers of past posts pointed out, the difference is not quite as sharp because legacies and recruited athletes tend to get accepted in the early decision round so while it may look like Dartmouth takes 26% of ALL early applicants, it is going to be less than that for “non-hooked” applicants. As I will illustrate below, even so, it is worth it to apply early decision to increase your odds. Some argue that early decision can lock you into a financial bind as you cannot compare financial aid packages so is “only for the wealthy.” That is not true because the Ivies bend over backwards to give generous aid packages once they commit to a student and in the worst case scenario, you can be released from the early decision agreement if after you appeal your financial aid award, you still cannot afford it.


  1. Even taking into account legacies and recruited athletes, the acceptance rate is still higher than regular round.
  2. There are MANY fewer applicants in the early round (look at the table below – sometimes 8-10 times fewer in early!) which means your application, essays, teacher recs and materials are read much more carefully and typically by admissions officers rather than outside readers.
  3. Not only are there fewer applicants in early, but with legacies and athletes who tend to be in the lower side academically, truly strong applicants who are academic superstars shine brighter in the early decision round than in the regular round. To say it another way, the regular round is much more competitive with many of the nation’s top students waiting until regular round. The early round overall is weaker because of the recruited athletes and legacies and “reach” applicants.
  4. Applying early decision tells the college that you picked them first – and you love their school and are willing to commit. That means for a student who might be “on the border,” often admissions officers will take that student in early but not in regular. This is demonstrated interest on steroids.
  5. What about getting deferred? Think of it this way, if you were deferred in the early round, you would have been rejected in the regular round, so nothing lost there. Plus, deferred students have a chance to send an update with new grades, awards, scores, etc… and roughly 5-15% of deferred kids (depending on the school) will be accepted during the regular round. The advantage is that the college knows it is your top choice, signaled by the original ED choice.
  6. Finally, with COVID still in the picture, many schools (especially small liberal arts schools) have lost a ton of tuition dollars from last year plus have many added expenses to develop a Coronavirus plan (paying for HEPA filters, more ventilation, etc…). That means that students who don’t need financial aid AND who apply ED will have higher admissions odds this year.
  7. Related to the above, we predict that many liberal arts colleges along with top universities will admit a higher percentage of the class in the ED round to lock in tuition paying students.


As I’ve argued before, if I could wave my magic wand, I would force all the top colleges to have two rounds of early decision (I and II) but 1- limit the number to perhaps only 30-35% of the total class rather than 50% as U Penn takes now for example) and 2- provide super generous financial aid/grants to students. That way colleges could still reserve 60-70% of the spots for regular round but still give students two rounds to indicate a true first choice. I would eliminate single choice early action so HYPS don’t artificially elevate themselves over the other schools simply based on policy. In a typical year, 20,000 to 25,000 students are deferred or rejected from HYPS, freak out, and then apply to 20-30 schools in regular round. That is why the system is flooded with a ridiculous number of applicants in regular round. Changing the system would reduce that number dramatically. But no school wants to act in a vacuum – they need to join hands and take the plunge all at once to insert some measure of sanity into the process.



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Early Admissions UPDATE: Class of 2024

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, higher ed reporters were trumpeting the growing popularity of early decision programs. Several top schools hit record highs with the number of early decision applicants; as a result, early admit rates hit an all-time low at those same schools.

Admissions leaders were clear about reasons for these increases, most pointing to efforts to increase accessibility to talented students who, historically, are underrepresented at the nation’s top private colleges. Several factors were highlighted as explanation for the growth, everything from enhancements to financial aid (Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion gift for financial aid to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins; expanded financial aid at Colby and Rice) to the University of Chicago’s decision to go test optional; to significantly greater use of Questbridge as a pipeline of students from underrepresented backgrounds (low income, first gen, and underrepresented minority students). Perhaps less publicly proclaimed were the colleges’ own direct marketing efforts (email and snail mail), aimed at enticing larger numbers of students to apply early through a drumbeat of messaging.


Has the popularity of early decision hit its limit? As we saw this past December, many top schools reported a decline in the number of early decision applicants for the Class of 2024. Check out our Early Admissions Stats page for the whole picture! Admissions deans are a bit circumspect about these decreases but we’ve gleaned some tidbits of information. Dartmouth and Emory point to a decrease in the number of international students in their early pools. Penn noted a change in the admissions application, requiring two shorter essays instead of one slightly longer supplement, as a potential cause of their decrease. Harvard’s dean attributed the university’s results to economic uncertainty worldwide and a plateauing of the number of high school students in the U.S., among other factors.


Where do we go from here? Several key schools have made it a policy to not release their early statistics (citing concerns about increasing student/parent stress about the process), and so the full picture is still incomplete. It remains to be seen if the volume of regular decision applicants to top colleges and universities will reflect similar decreases or rebound. No matter the final number of regular decision applicants, there will likely be more volatility in this year’s admissions cycle, as colleges try to assess who, among their regular decision applicants, have the highest yield probability.

Check out our original Early Admissions Trends: Class of 2024 post for a deep dive into exactly what happened in the early rounds.

Watch this space for further updates as more data are released.