What to Do If You Were Deferred

Many early decision and early action notifications have been sent! For those of you who received great news, we congratulate you! It has been an incredibly competitive application cycle and getting accepted to your top choice is an enormous accomplishment. For the many of you who have been deferred, this is a roadblock that need not prevent you from achieving your academic goals.

Around the first week of March, admissions offices at top colleges sort through all their deferred candidates in order to see how many they will ultimately admit. Much will depend upon the strength of their applicant pool for regular admission — was it higher than usual? Were applications up? Was there a strong geographic spread? In other words, what does the statistical makeup of the class look like, and where might it fall short? For example, if there was a shortage of female apps, the office might accept a higher percentage of females from the deferred pool who showed a strong interest.

If you are one of the applicants in this pool, the odds of catching an admissions officer’s eye in March are not great, but if you want to have any chance at all, make sure that you are an ACTIVE defer. Write a letter reaffirming that the college is still your first choice, send an extra letter of recommendation, make sure your grades go up and send your next round of grades, send updates about what you are doing in school — in short, be a PRESENCE. The only deferred kids who end up being accepted are those who make themselves into polite pests. Of course it depends upon why you were deferred in the first place, but rest assured that if you do nothing and send nothing, you will not be accepted.

More specifically, by the middle of February, draw up a one-page letter reaffirming your interest in the college, and then submit a bullet-point list of all the earth-shattering news/awards that you have won. Also, it can help to have senior year teachers send extra (not many – 1-2, no more) letters of recommendation to the school. Finally, your school should call on your behalf and push your case. That is about the only way a deferred candidate gets in since the odds are only about 5% depending on the school. In short, ACTIVE deferrals have a chance — those who do nothing will definitely NOT get in.

Another word about early applications: There seems to be a trend that more schools are now rejecting kids outright so that those who have no chance are not misled in the regular round. That should correlate to a small increase in the number of deferred applicants who get in. Normally at most schools the deferral acceptance rate is only 5-7% or so, not high. What can you do? The first thing is to speak directly to the admissions officer who read your application (you can have your college counselor call FIRST, then follow up) to get a sense of your chances. Sometimes there is NO chance (as in, your application wasn’t good, you didn’t stand out) and sometimes there is a specific reason — they wanted to see your grades in AP classes, they wanted new scores — all of which should be annotated on your file.

For younger students, take note that the application matters! Kids who dash off an application, even with strong scores, may be deferred. The other reason students are deferred is false confidence — thinking you stand out more than you do. It’s humbling to think that the typical Ivy applicant has 730 and up on ALL tests, several AP scores of 4-5, top rank in class and extraordinary talents. Yes, it is hard to stand out. If you are a current freshman or sophomore get working now so that you do indeed stand out in a particular academic area. How? Well, read on, and we’ll give tips each week. But, focus on what you love and then notch that up by going above and beyond.


SO –NOW WHAT? Here’s the deferral action list takeaway:
IF you were deferred from your early school, you must be proactive.
If you simply do nothing, chances are you will not get in. Here’s a plan:

Late December/Early January

  • Focus on your grades. Grades are the top factor in admissions and you want your senior fall grades to shimmer. Cut out your extras and focus on GRADES. All A’s will help.
  • Retake the SAT or SAT Subject Tests on January 24th, 2015 if those exams were problem areas for you. You can register until January 13, 2015, so there IS STILL TIME! If you don’t do better, just don’t send the new scores and no one will see them. If you do better, RUSH them to all your schools.
  • Are there any awards or competitions you can enter or have won and not yet reported to the college? Any concrete accomplishments are good to include in your follow up letter.
  • Have you followed up with any professors at the college that you had spoken to? Let them know your plight and enlist their help. But, only if you have met with them in the past and they know who you are when you write. Don’t be random with this ask.
  • Call (or email) the admissions office a few days after you receive the deferral letter and speak with your admissions officer – the person who covers your area or whom you interviewed with, or if you are an underrepresented applicant, the minority admissions representative. Tell him or her how disappointed you are, how much you like the school, and ask what else you can do. LISTEN to any clues he or she might give you in the conversation. It’s important YOU make this call NOT your parents. We had one student discover that by not visiting her early school she was at a disadvantage. She immediately made plans to visit. Do NOT stalk the admissions office, but fine to make one call.
  • Ask your guidance counselor to call both to support you, and to find out anything about WHY – any missing items? Tough year? Huge rise in applicants? School support is critical.
  • Ask a senior year teacher to write you a letter of support.
  • If you happen to know the headmaster/principal of your current school well, you can ask him/her to call or write on your behalf.


  • By the last week in February, you want to write a “deferral letter” stressing the following info:
    • Anything NEW. Report updated grades, scores, awards and prizes. You can start with “Since my deferral, I …” Don’t waste space on insignificant achievements as they can weaken your case.
    • Any interesting extracurricular additions or achievements.
    • An impassioned paragraph on WHY the school is still your first choice. Summarize and stress WHAT YOU WOULD ADD to the college campus? Be specific!
  • Don’t forget to include your Name and Social Security #. Send this deferral letter to the admissions officer covering your area! (Try to get his or her email address, if possible, rather than a mailing address).
  • Have your school send your updated transcript including all new grades.


  • In early March, CALL again and speak to your regional admissions officer to touch base. Ask if he/she got the letter, stress that the school is your first choice, and mention a few notable accomplishments (I pulled my grades up to all A’s and had the best quarter of my high school career…). You can email if they do not accept calls.

Some final advice

  • IF you have any strings to pull, now is the time to pull them (EX: trustee pals, fundraising ties, etc.)
  • While we want you to advocate for yourself, don’t become a pest. You don’t want to stalk the admissions office. Keep it to one initial call, one letter, and one follow-up call.
  • Don’t let this deferral erode your confidence. Stay focused and remember that the odds these past few years have been at all time lows and you stood out enough not to be rejected.
  • Send stellar application materials to the rest of the awesome schools on your list!

Contact us if you’re seeking assistance with navigating the deferral process. We are here to help!

One Comment

  1. Suping Lu

    Posted on December 22, 2015 at 7:18 pm


    I’m a guidance couselor. You state that “Ask your guidance counselor to call both to support you, and to find out anything about WHY – any missing items? Tough year? Huge rise in applicants? School support is critical.”

    Is it really better to call or is it better to send a message? I would view calls as very disruptive, especially during the holidays. I personally know the AOs, so I feel comfortable during either.

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