Deferred College Admission: What It Means for Applicants & How to Handle It

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman sitting while holding a paper with a confused look.

Deferred College Admission: What It Means for Applicants & How to Handle It

When you apply during a college’s early decision or early action round, there are three possible results. But most students only focus on two potential outcomes: acceptance or rejection. However, there’s a third possibility that causes some confusion among college applicants.  It’s important to know about deferred college admission.

If your application isn’t accepted or rejected by a school, it’s known as deferred college admission. But how is it possible to neither be admitted nor denied? This seeming contradiction generates a lot of questions and head-scratching for students who expected a relatively clear-cut answer after submitting their application.

And following months of painstaking preparation, it’s kind of anticlimactic to realize that you don’t know either way. Furthermore, this delay makes it harder to determine what you’re doing with other colleges you applied to.

To help clear up any confusion and help high schoolers make the best decision possible, we’re going to take a closer look at what deferred college admission means and what you should do in response.

What is a deferred college admission?

A deferred college admission is when your application is moved from the early decision or early action consideration to the regular decision timeline. In other words, a deferral is when a college or university temporarily delays its decision on whether or not to accept your application.

Instead of denying students with strong applications outright, admissions officers don’t make a decision right away. By deferring an application to the regular decision round, colleges can take another look at the applicant to see if they’re a good fit within the context of the regular applicant pool.

Generally, the early applicant pool is tougher to compete with because of the strong applicants that tend to apply early.

While a deferred college admission can feel defeating at first, it’s actually an advantage for many applicants who might perform better when compared to the talent of the regular decision round.

Deferral also gives students ample time to improve their application in various ways which we’ll cover letter. This is another major advantage of applying during early decision or early action as there’s no such thing as deferral during regular decision.

Even a strong application that would normally get deferred if sent in early will have to be denied during regular decision.

Why was my application deferred?

The next most common question college students face after “what is a deferred college admission?” is “why was my application deferred?” In reality, there’s rarely a single reason why college admission officers decide to defer an application. It’s usually a mixture of different factors that go into making the decision.

A woman sitting on the floor in front of her laptop while writing on her notebook.

The most common element is the quality of your application. When you’re deferred during early decision or early action, it’s safe to assume that your intended college wants to see a stronger application. A deferral gives you time to supplement your materials with improved test scores, a higher GPA, better letters of recommendation, and more.

A deferred college admission rarely means that your application is simply not good enough. Deferral usually means college admissions officers like what they saw enough to reconsider your application again during regular decision while still expecting you to improve what you originally submitted.

Other times, a deferred college admission is less a reflection on your performance and a bigger indication of the school itself.

Many colleges have a difficult time determining what kind of applications will come during regular decisions. Sometimes, colleges will use deferred college admission as a strategy to make sure the incoming class is well-rounded.

What should I do after a deferred college admission?

1. Make sure the school is a top choice.

Everything about the college admissions process is demanding of your valuable time and energy. You have both of these resources in limited amounts, so it’s important to be diligent about how you choose to spend them.

When you receive a deferred college admission from a school, it’s important to decide whether or not it’s worth pursuing before you dedicate any more of your focus towards it. If the school remains your number-one choice, it’s worth it to move ahead with the process.

However, if there are other schools that are higher on your list and more deserving of your time, you might decide to let your deferred college admission play itself out. If you end up getting accepted during regular decision, that’s great! You have one additional option. If you don’t, no worries! You have other options you prefer anyway.

2. Figure out what the school needs from you.

Fortunately, most colleges are upfront about what they want from students whose applications they defer. That way, you don’t have to waste valuable time guessing what admissions officers require from you to ensure that deferral turns into an acceptance letter.

However, each college has their own approach to handling deferrals, so it’s important to gain a better understanding of what your school’s specific deferred college admissions means for you and what steps they expect you to take next.

Some colleges and universities will simply ask for your latest grade updates which you can easily request from your high school and submit to the college.

Other schools will allow applicants to submit additional documents and materials to supplement their application such as deferral letters (something we’ll touch on more later), more letters of recommendation, and extracurricular updates.

Applicants who receive a deferred college admission should figure out what the school wants, what they should provide, and how to go about submitting those documents in a timely manner.

Of course, if a college states that deferred students shouldn’t submit extra materials, you should adhere to these rules. You don’t want to ruin your chances of acceptance because of breaking some rules.

3. Write a deferral letter.

Colleges aren’t just interested in accepting students with stellar grades, amazing test scores, and stellar applications overall.

They’re also eager to find students who are excited about attending the college and who would contribute to the school’s culture and community. Admissions officers will be looking for these intangible elements when reviewing applications.

A woman sitting while writing on her notebook.

A great way to demonstrate your desire to attend a college is to write what’s known as a deferral letter. A more appropriate name would be a reaffirmation letter as you’re writing to the college to reaffirm your eagerness to attend.

These letters demonstrate your commitment to the school and can help increase your chances of getting accepted during regular decisions.

In your deferral letter, you can repeat why you chose to apply to the school in the first place, what motivates you to attend, and what you would do if accepted.

This final part is important as it makes it easier for admissions officers to envision you as a proactive and productive member of the school – something they’re trying to determine when reviewing your application.

Another important element of a successful deferral letter is to talk about what you’ve been up to since you originally submitted your early application.

Maybe you received some awards for your academic or extracurricular accomplishments. Perhaps you improved your GPA by a considerable amount.

Speaking to these achievements in your letter will demonstrate to admissions officers that you’re not only a worthy candidate to attend the school but that you’re focused on improving yourself to earn a spot in the university.

This shows commitment, perseverance, and desire – all factors colleges and universities love to see in applicants.

4. Get a solid letter of recommendation (or two).

The next step after getting a deferred college admission is to get another letter of recommendation to boost your application. Ideally, you can find a teacher who can provide a stellar letter that can help illustrate to admissions officers why you’re a perfect student to attend their college.

This requires a teacher who knows you pretty well, so be careful about who you choose. You can’t send in unlimited letters of recommendation, so you have to make sure it counts.

Be sure to pay attention to the requirements of your school as you might be able to request a letter of recommendation from an admissions officer, coach, or other non-teacher relationship.

5. Take another standardized test.

Your SAT and ACT scores play an important role in the college admissions process. No, they’re not everything, but they are impactful. Admissions officers who see a significantly improved score on your application when reviewing it for the second time might be more likely to admit you into their school.

An answer sheet with a pencil on top of it.

Keep in mind that there’s no official limit to how many times you can take a standardized test. Of course, taking too many can look bad on your application. But if you’ve already received a deferred college admission, you don’t have much to lose. A higher score can help to increase your chances of getting accepted.

6. Improve your resume.

Not everything about your college application has to be related to school. In fact, some of the most impactful elements of an application are those that make you stand out from the crowd.

Maybe you’re a talented writer with several publications in local magazines or newspapers. Or perhaps you’re accomplished in one of your favorite hobbies with accolades for your work.

Sharing this information with colleges might seem trivial at first when compared to more official and objective factors such as your GPA, standardized test scores, and high school transcripts.

In reality, however, these unique parts of your application can work wonders when admissions officers reconsider your admittance. Anything that helps them distinguish you from other applicants is always a plus.

7. Improve your academic performance.

One of the best parts about getting deferred (yes, there is such a thing!) is having a chance to improve your application. And we’re not just talking about submitting additional materials.

You actually have more time to improve your academic performance which plays a crucial role in determining your eligibility for attending a university.

A student in the library writing notes on her notebook.

Many students get deferred because their grades are strong enough not to receive a direct denal but not robust enough to justify an acceptance right away either.

A surefire way to get yourself out of this limbo is to study and work hard to boost your academic performance. When admissions officers review your application for a second time and see improved grades overall, they’ll know you’re committed to improving yourself and truly want to attend the school.

8. Get in touch with admissions officers.

Many high schoolers see admissions officers as these super secretive people who don’t have any contact with the outside world other than to review applications a few times per year.

In reality, they’re perfectly normal professionals like any other staff member at a college. Better yet, they’re reachable, meaning you can actually get in contact with them. And you should!

Don’t be afraid to send an email or make a phone call to the registrar’s office of the school to which you’re applying. Let them know about your deferred college admission and request some further information and tips for ensuring your second consideration results in an admittance.

9. Consider other colleges on your list.

It’s tough to receive a deferred college admission from your number one college choice. It can feel like your years of hard work in high school and your months of determination in completing the college application have all gone to waste.

However, it’s important from the beginning to keep your options open when it comes to applying to college. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll make it into the school of your dreams or even your second or third option.

A girl thinking while holding a notebook and pencil.

That’s why it’s crucial to create a detailed list of your preferred colleges and apply to your top four or five just in case you get a deferred college admission to your top choice. If your deferral ends up turning into an acceptance, that’s awesome!

But if not, don’t despair. Simply move on to your next highest choice. Don’t take the rejection personally. After all, you want to go to a college that’s just as psyched to have you as you are to attend it.

What are my chances of getting admitted after a deferred college admission?

The aforementioned advice can help you increase your chances of getting accepted after a deferred college admission.

But it’s important to keep in mind that even the highest effort on your part can’t guarantee your deferral will result in admittance. Your dream school still might end up rejecting you during the regular admissions timeline.

Although a deferred college admission means the exact same thing on paper regardless of the school, there are unofficial differences if you look at the trends of these schools.

For example, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard are well-known for giving out a lot of deferrals, only rejecting a small number of the early decision or early action applicants.

While this might sound like good news at first, deferrals from these deferral-happy schools can be misleading. Because they’re given out so loosely, those who receive a deferral face tough odds of getting accepted come regular decision. Some colleges such as Cornell, Stanford, and Duke are on the other side of the equation, offering more rejections than deferrals.

At these schools, a deferred college admission can be assumed to mean a bit more than at colleges and universities where they’re handed out like free samples.

Speaking with current students, former graduates, and college admissions specialists can help you determine how you should view a deferral depending on the school to which you’re applying.

What’s the point of sharing this information? Well, it’s certainly not intended to get you down. Instead, we want you to have a sober and accurate view of what a deferred college admission means for your chances of getting into the school of your choice.

You deserve to know where you stand. Sometimes, that means accepting some harsh truths instead of adopting a rose-colored perspective.

This realization might sound defeating at first, but it can feel empowering when truly accepted. As mentioned before, you deserve to attend a college that’s excited about having you attend.

If your first-choice school isn’t reciprocating your energy and eagerness and shows that tepidness with a deferred college admission, don’t let them control your emotions.

Show that you’re still interested in attending as the deferral can always turn into acceptance, but start considering your other options.

There’s no point in wasting your valuable time and energy wondering what went wrong or how you could have done things differently. Keep your head up and look forward, there are good things on the horizon.

Interested in working with an experienced college entrance expert who can help improve your chances of getting into the school of your dreams? Feel free to contact AdmissionSight today to learn more about what we offer and how you can benefit.


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