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What to Do When You’re Deferred From a College


The biggest benefit of applying to college early decision or early action is finding out whether or not you’ve been accepted to your top choice school as soon as possible. So few things are more frustrating than going through the effort of writing the perfect college essay and taking standardized tests months before your friends only to receive an email saying, “Your application has been deferred.”

Getting deferred means the college is postponing its admissions decision and will review your application with the regular-decision applicants. You’ll find out in the spring if you’ve been accepted or rejected. You haven’t been accepted yet, but you haven’t been rejected yet either, so what do you do?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do if you get that dreaded, ambiguous email.

1. Treat yourself.

If you got into your dream school, you might have had plans to go out to dinner with your parents to celebrate. If you got rejected from your dream school, maybe you had plans to wallow in your sorrows by having movie night with the girls. But if you weren’t accepted and you weren’t rejected, what is there to do?

We recommend doing something special anyway, like a trip to your favorite restaurant or a girls’ night. You should treat yourself for all the hard work you put into your application, and give yourself a pick-me-up from the disappointment of not receiving a definite answer.

2. Review your options.

Once you’ve treated yourself a little, it’s time to think about your future. You probably applied early decision or early action because you knew which school was your first choice.  That was a few months ago. Now it’s time to reconsider your options.           

“Sometimes if you don’t get into a school, it’s for the best,” says Liz, a collegiette from Syracuse University. “The college may have recognized you wouldn’t be a good fit, and that you’d be better off somewhere else.”

Of course, you didn’t not get into the school, which why getting deferred is so frustrating. But for now, pretend you didn’t get in. What’s your next choice?

It’s important to have a back-up plan. Make sure you’ve completed and sent in your other applications.  If you haven’t applied to a safety school, now’s the time to look at colleges with rolling admissions. These are schools that review applications as soon as they receive them.  Many will accept applications through the spring. Since these schools generally give decisions within a few weeks, you might be able to get some quick assurance that you’ll have somewhere to go next fall. Here are some colleges with late deadlines you could apply to.

3. Visit the school you were deferred from (if possible).         

There are two advantages to visiting (or re-visiting) the school you were deferred from. First, visiting a school is one of the best ways to decide if a school is right for you. You might notice things that make you realize you’re not as crazy about that school as you thought you were, and you really dodged a bullet by not getting in. Or you might fall in love with the school all over again and be motivated to give the school new information about why you’d be their perfect student. 

Another advantage of visiting the school is the possibility of talking with someone from admissions. Contact the admissions office to see if your school considers personal interviews when making decisions. “Sometimes a college or university may want to interview the applicant before rendering a final decision,” says Mark Wells, assistant dean for undergraduate admissions at the University of Rochester. Having an interview is a good way to show your continued interest in a school and, if possible, provide them with new information.

If you have time, try to visit other colleges as well, especially your safety and match colleges that you hadn’t spent much time exploring before. You might find yourself getting more excited about these schools, which will ease the disappointment of having to wait for a decision from your top choice.

4. Ask the admissions officer how you can improve your chances.

Don’t assume that making a huge, flashy gesture will impress the admissions committee. This plea to Yale for a college acceptance, a YouTube video that has had more than 40,000 views, didn’t lead to its desired outcome. It’s best to find out what supplementary information (such as additional test scores or new recognitions) your top school wants, if any.

“Supplementary materials can be helpful, but beware of overloading admission officers with too much superfluous information,” Wells says. “Contact the Office of Admission to find out what their preference is—answers will vary among institutions.” Admissions officers already have a lot to look at, and you don’t want to waste their time with repetitive or irrelevant information.

Many colleges will tell you they want new information. They’ve already seen your application, so they know your accomplishments. Have you recently won a notable award or received a special honor? Did you retake a standardized test and got a much better score? Then you probably have information that could help your application. Find out who reviews your application by calling the admissions office, and send this representative a polite, concise e-mail explaining who you are and describing your recent accomplishments.

5. Keep your grades up.

Hopefully you would be doing this anyway, but now, maintaining good grades is even more important if you want to show the college why they should admit you in the spring.

“Mid-year grades and updated test scores are the most often cited reasons for wanting to defer ED applicants to regular decision,” Wells says. “Improving one’s grades (or maintaining current improvement) often helps improve one’s chances for admission.”

While grades aren’t the only reason you may have been deferred, there’s nothing like a row of Ds and Fs to convince an admissions committee you’re not right for their school. Check out these tips for rocking your AP courses.

6. Stop worrying

Once you’ve done these steps, there’s nothing more you can do, so stop stressing! The decision is out of your hands, and besides, where you go to school isn’t as big of a choice as it may seem. Stop worrying about college and enjoy your last few months of high school.


Waiting is hard, especially if you were expecting to “just know already!” by now, but if you use this waiting time productively, you’re sure to end up somewhere great.

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