What to Do After Getting Deferred By Your First-Choice College

December 14, 2022

You shed any Prufrockian paralysis and boldly confess your undying love to the college of your dreams. By applying early decision you’ve offered them 100% commitment and devotion with no guarantees in return. Your heart is all in their hands now. After a nervous, lengthy wait to find out if your feelings are requited, a decision has arrived. Will it be the ecstasy of acceptance or the crushing blow of rejection? You’ve been…Deferred from college. Okay, so in one sense your worst fears were averted. Your number one choice didn’t laugh in your face or say that they would rather be friends. Of course, they didn’t say “Yes” either.

While better than an outright rejection, being deferred can leave students feeling helpless and lacking further agency in the quest to win acceptance. This is simply not the case. Below are 6 things that you can do to improve your chances of being admitted in the regular admissions round. But first, let’s give the definition of what being deferred by a college means and doesn’t mean.

1. Write a letter

If you haven’t already done so, draft a letter addressed to the Dean of Admission and to the admissions counselor assigned to your area. This letter should (1) reiterate your intentions to enroll if admitted, and (2) restate why you believe the college is most suited to your interests and goals.  Be sure to reference specific courses, extracurricular activities, and/or research opportunities that you plan to pursue. Also, make sure that your letter strikes an upbeat and appreciative tone; doing so shows resilience and demonstrates your continued interest.

2. Solicit another letter of recommendation

Solicit a letter of recommendation from someone who is able to offer a different and fresh perspective on your candidacy.  For example, if you’ve only submitted teacher recommendations thus far, consider sending a letter of recommendation from an extracurricular sponsor or work supervisor, who can attest to your abilities and work ethic outside of the classroom.

3. Take more standardized tests

If your SAT or ACT scores constitute a relative weakness of your application, consider registering for an additional test or two. As evidenced in our prior posts, standardized test scores still matter and improved results can go a long way toward improving your admission prospects. If you decide to take an additional exam, do so in January or February, before your prospective colleges finalize their admission decisions.

4. Add to Your Resume

Seek opportunities to earn additional recognition. If you’re a writer, send an article to your local newspaper. If you’re an artist, explore opportunities to exhibit your work/ Should you be someone who excels in math, enter a competition. Securing a competitive scholarship, distinguished award, or similar honor can often aid borderline applicants.

5. Demonstrate Interest

If you have not yet visited your first-choice college, consider doing so (in non-pandemic times). A campus visit offers you an opportunity to talk with students and current staff, meet face-to-face with your admissions counselor, and further acquaint yourself with the offerings of a particular college. It may also improve your admissions prospects. During the COVID-19 crisis, of course, this will not be possible. As a replacement, consider actions like engaging with the school over social media or reaching out to an admissions officer via email with a thoughtful question.

6. Get straight A’s

Study hard. First-semester grades are extremely important for deferred applicants and provide you with one last opportunity to exhibit scholastic promise and a trend of academic improvement. It is also important to note that a number of competitive colleges are willing to review January SAT and/or February ACT scores in their regular admissions processes. Therefore, if you’re not satisfied with your current scores and believe improvement is possible, consider registering for one final test.

What are my chances of being accepted after a deferral?

Even if you dutifully adhere to the above advice, it’s important to remember that your first-choice school may still reject you in the regular admissions cycle. It only takes a quick glance at the sobering numbers to assess the reality of the situation. Of the 15,036 early applicants to the MIT Class of 2026, just 4.8% were offered admission while 9,489 individuals were deferred to Regular Action. Typically, only a couple hundred (at most) deferred students are later accepted by MIT. UPenn doesn’t provide specific numbers for deferred applicants, but the Regular Decision cohort at large had only a 4% acceptance rate in 2021-22 compared to a 16% clip during the ED cycle.

Some schools, Harvard being one, reject very few applicants in the early action round and defer the vast majority of non-accepted applicants. Therefore, those who are not basking in Crimson glory early will face extraordinarily long odds in the spring. Yale and Princeton are similarly “generous” in handing out deferrals to the majority of those not accepted. Duke, Stanford, and Cornell are all known to be at the other end of the spectrum. These schools reject far more than they defer. This makes a deferral from one of their institutions a bit more meaningful than the previously mentioned schools.

There are plenty of other great schools…seriously!

The intent of sharing the aforementioned stats is not to deflate your spirits. Rather, we simply advise that deferred applicants must quickly adopt a reality-based mindset versus a Pollyannaish one. The worst thing one can do is continue to obsess over the “love interest” that already gave you a tepid, disappointing response. Continue to respectfully let your number one choice know that you still have an interest in them but also play the field. Trust us, Vanderbilt, UVA, or Middlebury won’t be swayed by a pledge to attend their school or skip college altogether.

There are countless institutions that can offer you a top-notch education. If your deferral turns into an acceptance later on, that’s fantastic. If not, make sure that you are set up to pursue a wonderful relationship with one of the many excellent schools that is just as excited about you as you are about them.