For the past three-ish weeks, colleges have just been breaking hearts left and right. I was recently one of those broken hearts (thanks, Princeton). But out of the hundreds of thousands of students that applied early action or early decision (more on the early application process here), only a fraction of each applicant pool was offered a spot in next year’s incoming class, the class of 2022 - that coveted acceptance. The rest (like you and me) were either rejected outright (aww, I'm sorry, that sucks), or got this weird email saying you were not rejected, but not accepted either, and are hanging out in this limbo of “deferred applicants”.
But what exactly does it mean to get deferred in the initial round of applications? What should you do next to optimize your chances of being accepted in the regular decision round? And should you give up on life and move to Slovakia to raise a herd of goats?
(The answer to that last one is no.)
Well, let’s just start with talking a little bit about the concept of getting deferred.
Essentially, deferred means that although your application was qualified, the admissions committee did not feel confident enough in making a decision to admit you in the early application cycle. But… they believed you would be competitive in the regular decision pool of applicants. By deferring you, they are letting you know that they will take another look at your application with the rest of the regular decision applications as context, in order to make a final decision on your application status.
Here’s my very own Princeton deferred decision letter.
Ouch. It still stings.
Let’s go over some of the most important language that this letter uses and that you will most likely find in your deferred letter as well.
“We have received more than _____ early applications…”
Yup, thanks for reminding me that I was competing with literally the world. But jokes aside, this line should make you feel a little bit better about being deferred. Out of that massive amount of applicants (and remember, each year the number of early applicants increases - except if you’re Columbia), you were qualified and competitive enough to not get rejected outright, and still have a chance (even if it’s minuscule) to get accepted as a regular decision applicant.
*NOTE* Different schools have different deferral rates, and therefore a deferred decision can mean different things. If a school has a very high percentage of deferral (like Princeton), there is a smaller chance you will be accepted in the RD round. However, if most early applicants are denied and there is a smaller percentage that is deferred (as is the case with Stanford, for example), you have a much higher chance of being accepted in March/April.
“The committee would like to see your senior year academic performance… please be sure the Mid-Year Report is sent to us as soon as [your grades] are available”
Pretty straightforward - this means you cannot afford to slack off for the rest of senior year. Your Mid-Year Report (sent to colleges after your first semester) may now be the determining factor in your prospective admission. Make sure you either continue to do well or improve, don’t start a downward trend in senior year. (RIP my chance at Pton because of my Calc grade). But! This is also a standard line that will be on here regardless of the reason you got deferred. So you cannot assume that if you keep your grades up you will be admitted, or that if you mess up a little you will automatically be denied.
But make sure you remember to send in your Mid-Year grades! Don’t lose your chance at being admitted because you forgot to submit them!
“If you would like us to review additional information, please send it to us by the end of January.”
This line in your deferred decision is basically referring to what is known as a “deferral letter” or “deferral update letter”. This is the second part of the “What Next” after getting a deferral (the first being keeping your senior grades up). This deferral letter is basically an affirmation to the school that they are your first choice and contains any important updates on your progress in senior year.
An In-Depth Look at a Deferral Letter
You should not send out this deferral update too soon after you receive your decision. If you do, admissions officers will most likely forget that you sent it and it will get lost in the pile of admissions fodder and lack the “oomph” during the reassessment process. I recommend sending it late-Jan, early Feb. (For context, my letter to Pton will be sent out last week of Jan.) Of course, if your college gives you a deadline or a recommendation, I would follow that.
The letter itself should take the form that the college most prefers. For example, Princeton explicitly stated that any update should be uploaded as a document to the portal. Other colleges prefer it as an email to their admissions office. If nothing is specified, the safe bet is to always email it to your admissions office/counselor. This way, you are guaranteed that it will actually reach them and you should also receive some form of reply/affirmation that is was received. Some people say the biggest way to send the message across is to send an actual, snail-mail letter, but I always hesitate with that form of communication because of the lack of assurance that it has reached plus the lack of a way for them to reply plus a possibility that it will get lost in their mailbox. But use your best judgment.
Inside the letter:
1. Reiterate your love
If you love the school you ED/EAed to even a fraction of how much I love Princeton (sigh...such is the life of unrequited love), you are head over heels. Make sure you portray that in this letter. Remind them they are your first choice and how your connection with the school makes it your first choice.
2. Any valuable updates
This can be concerning test scores, awards, leadership roles, any new significant change in your life that makes you a better applicant for the school. Look through your activities list on your Common App (more about extracurricular activities here) and see if in any of those activities you have accomplished something new or taken on a new role. And if you find that there are no new updates to speak of (well, first I would recommend doing something worthy of an update), pivot back to the college and how you are excited about the program/academics.
3. Keep it short and sweet
I’m sure you would love to go on and on making your case for admissions, but remember that your application is still 1 in 10,000 (or 100,000, if you’re applying to UCLA). The admissions committee doesn’t want to spend any more time on your app than they need to, and the most effective deferral letter is one that gets the point across with limited amounts of fluff.
4. Read this:
For more on writing a deferral letter, here is a great outline:
The Love Letter to the College that Deferred You
IMPORTANT: Don’t be a stalker.
Please do not continually pester the admissions office or counselor with constant emails or calls or anything of the like. If you want, you (or your counselor) can make a call to the admissions office after receiving the deferred decision to see if there’s anything specifically that held you back in the admissions process (this call has more success in smaller universities with fewer applicants where they’re more likely to actually offer advice/feedback). But beyond that call and uploading/emailing your deferral letter, there is no reason to update admissions several times.
IMPORTANT: Don’t forget about your other applications.
Man oh man this is of utmost importance. I know it might feel like the world is ending and the sky is falling and you have failed terribly after opening that decision (it isn’t, it isn’t, and you haven’t), but remember that that was only one school. You are most likely applying to several more, and those other colleges made your list for a reason (more on making a school list here). So even if they are not your first choice, they still deserve the same respect and effort you put into your early application.
So give yourselves a couple of days to grieve, then get over and move on. Start writing those other essays and start falling in love with other schools. (Ideally, you would have written your other essays earlier, but I know you haven’t - go write them!)
IMPORTANT: Don’t. Give. Up.
Remember, getting deferred is not getting rejected (even if it may feel like one in the beginning). You still have a chance and you have to take control of your fate and act on that chance. If you do nothing, nothing will come out of it.
For me, I was well aware that I was almost certainly going to be deferred (c’mon, who actually expects to get into Princeton). But as it got closer and closer to D-Day, I kept getting caught up in the idea of being accepted and of attending and that made it feel even worse when it didn’t happen. (I was seriously addicted to that Princeton EA College Confidential Thread.)
And so yes, getting deferred sucks. (Believe me, I know.) But it’s never good to get caught up in one thing, in one future. And so even though there is a chance you will get accepted after getting deferred, keep an open mind - there’s always hope out there, always another college that will be as perfect of a fit, a college you will be as happy to attend. Just don’t give up on yourself.
And as always, thanks for reading!