Dealing with deferral: A few tips for applicants
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…
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.
1. 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, which (1) reiterates your intentions to enroll if admitted, and (2) restates 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 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. If your SAT, ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests 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. 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; if you excel in math, enter a competition. Securing a competitive scholarship, distinguished award, or similar honor can often aid borderline applicants.
5. If you have not yet visited your first-choice college, consider doing so. 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.
6. 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, so if you’re not satisfied with your currents scores and believe improvement is possible, consider registering for one final test.
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:
In the 15-16 admissions cycle MIT deferred 4,776 applicants and later accepted just 208 in the regular round. UPenn tapped a similar number of deferred students for admission in 2015—171 to be exact. Brown gave a thumbs up to a slightly more encouraging 7% of those who had previously been deferred. Some schools, Harvard being one, rejects very few applicants in the early action round and defers 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.
The intent of sharing these 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, neither Cornell, UVA, or Middlebury will 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.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).