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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.

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