Admissions college admissions Deferral Top Tips

What to Do If You Have Been Deferred

For the past few weeks, students have been anxiously awaiting the results of their Early Decision and Early Action applications. Now, as December rolls on, many schools are finally releasing their decisions. For students who are accepted or rejected, these results are pretty clear-cut. Some students, however, will face a less definitive status: deferral.


In theory, deferrals are pretty simple. When schools defer students, they postpone making decisions about those students’ applications until the regular round. This allows admissions officers to reconsider these students’ materials within the full applicant pool. Students can be deferred for any number of reasons, ranging from mediocre application essays to a spike in the number of early applicants, to scores below the expected level. Sometimes admissions officers want to see a student’s fall semester grades or the results of recent standardized tests. It’s also not uncommon for students to receive “courtesy deferrals” (rather than rejections) if their families are well-connected at that particular college.

The number of students deferred varies from institution to institution. Some schools defer very few students. Others, like Georgetown University, automatically defer every student not accepted in the Early Action round. Unfortunately, schools ultimately don’t accept many of the students they defer. As a rule of thumb, most schools accept only 5-10% of deferred students. Last year, for example, MIT deferred 6,331 of the 9,571 students who applied in the Early Action round. During the regular round, however, MIT admitted only 248 of those deferred students — an admit rate of 3.9%.

The good news: if you are deferred, there are still plenty of things you can do to increase your odds of admission during the regular round. We’ve laid out some of them below.



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 the last week of February, submit the following materials to the admissions officer covering your area:

  1. A one-page deferral letter that includes:
    1. A note about your strong fall semester grades, as well as any new awards, scores or honors you’ve received
    2. Updates on your interesting extracurricular activities or accomplishments
    3. 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!

6 replies on “What to Do If You Have Been Deferred”

Excellent article that encourages one to make the most out of a situation and how to maximize time rather than squandering it. Highly recommend this article to anyone in junior or senior year of high school. I truly enjoyed the positive attitude.

So what if you have a near perfect GPA, 34 ACT, school and community involvement, winner of awards both academically and community, great letters of recommendation and still get deferred from a not-top tiered school?

Sorry to hear about your early result… admit rates are as brutal as ever this year, at all tiers of schools. You can follow our tips re: deferral if you plan on trying to get off the deferral list or you might consider doing a full review of your application to see where things might’ve gone wrong for your regular round essays. Best of luck to you!

Thanks for the insight and honesty. My daughter got deferred and its been a whirlwind trying to figure it all out. This is about the 20th piece I’ve read to try and help her make sense of things; this has been the most meaningful. With the focus on grades, I am starting to think not sending in her 1st quarter grades affected the decision. Because the school required mid-year grades, she thought they were due in February but we discovered a little too late she should have updated with first quarter report. I feel a lot better after reading this. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.