Deferral Insider Tips Seniors Top Tips

Top Tips If You’ve Been Deferred

As December slips by, many schools are releasing their Early Decision I and Early Action decisions. Psssst…. We have the most up to date release information here. For students who are accepted or rejected, these results are pretty clear-cut. Some students, however, will face a less definitive status: deferral.


Being deferred can be likened to Rudolph’s Island of Misfit Toys –not knowing exactly where you fit or if you fit at all. In theory, deferrals are fairly straight forward. When a school postpones making a decision about a student’s application until the regular round, that student is deferred. Students can be deferred for any number of reasons:

  • a spike in the number of early applicants
  • scores below the expected level
  • a desire to see fall semester grades or the results of recent standardized tests
  • low level of demonstrated interest
  • vague or no academic extras outlined on common app

It’s also not uncommon for students to receive “courtesy deferrals” (rather than rejections) if their families are well-connected at that particular college or if they are a legacy or have a sibling at the school.


Unfortunately, schools ultimately don’t accept many of the students they defer. As a rule of thumb, most schools accept only 5-10 percent of deferred students. And though early round admission rates are much better than regular they are still extremely competitive. For instance, Harvard accepted 895 out of 6,424 to their Class of 2024, reflecting a 13.9 acceptance rate for their binding early action round. Typically, the regular round acceptance rate hovers around just 3 percent! In UVA’s first early decision round since 2006, admittance to the Class of 2024 was offered to 749 out of 2,157 students, which represents a 35 percent acceptance rate. Last year, just 23.8 percent were admitted during the regular round for the Class of 2023. Brown accepted 800 out of 4,562 early decision applicants to their Class of 2024, representing a 17.5 percent acceptance rate. The regular round acceptance rate last year was 5.17 percent. No matter how you shake it, the admissions competition in the early rounds is tough but it’s even tougher in regular.

BUT, if you are 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. 

college admissions waitlist deferral


As soon as you receive notice that you have been deferred:

  1. Bring up your grades. As we’ve said before, grades are the most important factor in admissions decisions, so you’ll want to finish the fall semester with the strongest grades possible. If your senior-year grades are weak, we recommend cutting out all extra activities and focusing on improving your academic performance.
  2. Retake subject tests if needed. If you had any sub par scores, now is the time to send in higher scores. Basically, if nothing changes, the result won’t either.
  3. Seek out awards, competitions, or high-level extracurricular activities in your area of interest.Colleges want to see concrete evidence of your accomplishments and your continued passion for your field. After strong grades, additional accolades and impressive projects are the next most important element to prove your strength as an applicant.
  4. Ask your guidance counselor to call the admissions office on your behalf. During this call, your guidance counselor should express support for your application and also 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?
  5. Ask one of your senior-year teachers to write a letter of support on your behalf. If you’ve spent the semester doing research with a college faculty or working in a lab, it would also be appropriate to get a letter of support from your faculty mentor. Make sure to stick to one recommendation only, though! You don’t want to overwhelm the admissions office.
  6. If you have any contacts at the school that might be helpful to you (e.g., trustee pals, fundraising connections), reach out to them now.

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

  1. A one-page deferral letter that includes:
    • A note about your strong fall semester grades, as well as any new awards, scores or honors you’ve received
    • Updates on your interesting extracurricular activities or accomplishments
    • One paragraph detailing why this school is still your first choice. Be precise about why you love the school and what you would add to its campus. This is a crucial paragraph because it allows admissions officers to see your passion for the school and to envision you as part of the student body.
  2. An updated school transcript that includes your fall-semester grades
  3. One letter of support from a senior-year teacher, if applicable


Some things to keep you mind as you go through this process:

  1. Do 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. Come up with a back-up plan in the event that you are not accepted to your top school during the regular round. What other schools are on your list? Have you considered an ED2 option?
  3. Don’t let a deferral erode your confidence. Remember, you’re a smart, talented student with a lot to offer, and there are many schools (maybe even this one!) that will ultimately accept you because of it.

If you’re still confused by the deferral process or struggling to figure out how to improve your application, feel free to contact us. We’re here to help!

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