It’s the season of college acceptance letters, which means it’s also the season of deferrals. There’s no dancing around it—it’s always disappointing to be deferred. It’s especially difficult when deferral letters follow Early Action acceptance notifications by only a few days. Feelings of discouragement, failure, and depression are common, especially when friends are celebrating their college acceptances and posting about it on social media, and you’re…deferred.
What is a deferral?
A deferral is synonymous with the more old-school term “waitlisted.” But it doesn’t mean you just have to sit tight and wait in limbo for the next few months. You can’t guarantee a later acceptance, but taking action if your application has been deferred will offer you a sense of control in your college admission process. Take key steps that could ultimately make the difference between Regular Decision acceptance or not.
Here’s what I often tell deferred students: Don’t be hamstrung by your disappointment. As painful as it may be, read the deferral letter or email carefully. You’ll usually find details suggesting possible next steps.
Express your continued interest
To start, colleges typically want to know if you’re still interested in attending should you be admitted. Some schools that notify students electronically will include a link to an interest form that indicates your wish to have your application remain active for admission consideration. Other schools will point you where to go to update your status preference in your student account.
Sometimes colleges simply encourage you to express continued interest via a brief email to either your specific admission counselor or to the admission office in general. Do this. Skipping over this basic step could signal that you no longer wish to be considered for admission.
Update crucial info
Next, provide updated academic information. It’s important to maintain solid grades first semester of senior year—a continued record of academic achievement inevitably strengthens your application. Your most recent official transcript showing fall grades is the easiest supplement to your application.
Now is also the time to include information or documentation related to any extracurricular honors or internship experiences that may have occurred since you submitted your application. Don’t forget to mention these achievements or provide records when you reach out to the admission office.
Consider retaking standardized tests
Some students opt to retake the SAT or ACT in an effort to report higher test scores if this is what’s halting their admission status. As you’d expect, this isn’t popular on the “deferral to-do list” among students, but it’s an option. If you plan to retake a test, make sure that scores will be released in time to meet the admission deadline of your college.
Reach out to an admission counselor
Regardless of what your deferral letter says, reaching out to an admission counselor is always a good idea. In a few sentences, express your continued interest in the school and inquire if it’s possible for you to provide additional updated materials. Counselors will typically respond with suggestions.
In my worst experience, a student’s admission representative replied that there was nothing she needed to do. That was frustrating because it meant all she could do was wait; but that’s really the worst-case scenario (and she ended up going to another school she liked better anyway).
More often, I’ve known admission counselors to offer personalized encouragement and specific suggestions for bolstering the application file. In one case, a counselor suggested a student indicate another prospective major that had more room than his initial choice. He did and was accepted, and by second semester of his first year, he was admitted to the original, more competitive major. In another case, an admission counselor who was familiar with the student’s application took the time to explain exactly why she was deferred (her test scores were lower than their Early Action average) and offered multiple ideas on what to send to tip the decision in her favor. In fact, the counselor had already attached the email to her file as evidence of her interest.
Both of those contacts with counselors reassured students and helped assuage their initial disappointment. Most importantly, these students understood why they were deferred. They didn’t have to wonder, guess, or feel bad about their entire application—and they realized that, to some degree, their deferral was about larger factors they couldn’t control.
In the end...
The bottom line: deferral is naturally disappointing, but there is action you can take to potentially sway the admission decision while you wait. No matter what else you do, contacting the institution’s admission counselors for specific guidance they can provide is the right place to begin.
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