General Education

What to Do if You’ve Been Deferred From College

What to Do if You’ve Been Deferred From College
A deferral means that things aren’t quite over yet. Image from Unsplash
Kevin McMullin profile
Kevin McMullin February 3, 2015

As your application is reconsidered in the Regular Decision round, you can take steps to increase your chances of being accepted by your dream school.

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As you eagerly open the letter from the college where you applied early or through rolling admissions, emotionally ready for any outcome, you are confused when you read the word “deferred."

Deferred? Does that mean you’re in or you’re out? What should your next steps be to move forward and turn the deferral into an acceptance?

Defining College Deferrals

A deferral means that things aren’t quite over yet. The school wasn’t able to accept you in this round, but they haven’t ruled out the possibility. Your application will be reevaluated in the pool of regular decision applications, this time with the inclusion of your achievements and report card from senior year. You’ll hear back from the college on the same date as the regular decision applicants, around March or April.

Note that if you applied to a school Early Decision, being deferred sometimes means that you are released from the binding commitment if the college accepts you in the regular round. Make sure to check if this is the case for the college in question by contacting your college guidance counselor.

A deferral can be a frustrating limbo when it comes to college applications, but don’t forget that it means you still have the possibility of going to the school that deferred you. You can improve your chances of being accepted by proceeding wisely.

_Check out Noodle’s expert article on how acceptance rates often contribute to deferral patterns._

Making a Good Impression

If you are still invested in being admitted to the college that sent you the deferral, your best bet is to show the admissions office how much you love the school. Take the time to demonstrate why you are interested in the college and what you have to offer.

This, however, should always be done in a respectful manner. There is a difference between showing your excitement and being inappropriate. Read on for suggestions on how to appeal to the admission office in a thoughtful, considerate way.

Next Steps to Take

Begin these steps as soon as you’ve been deferred, since decisions go out in early spring.

1. Follow the instructions.

Read the deferral letter with your guidance counselor so she can clarify any questions you may have. Follow all of its directions. Don’t stray from what the letter suggests, especially when it comes to the admissions office asking you to avoid doing something. For instance, if the letter says you should not send in any additional information, then do not mail them anything new.

2. Make a call.

After you’ve notified your guidance counselor and read the deferral letter with her, ask if you should call the admissions office. Your counselor will be familiar with the college’s protocol, so she’ll have insight on what is appropriate. A call to the admissions office should never be placed by parents.

Placing a call to the admissions officer will rarely hurt a student’s chances, and in some cases, it can lead to a positive outcome. These kinds of calls are especially helpful at smaller universities, where admissions officers are more likely to speak to prospective students.

Remember, however, that it’s possible the call will make no difference. For instance, at large schools, admissions officers have so many applicants that it may be difficult to get specific information about your particular application. It may even be difficult to reach the admissions officer to begin with, since this is the peak time for them to be reviewing applications and they may be doing so out of their office.

When you call the office, you will likely speak to a receptionist. If you know the name of the officer who reads applications from your high school, ask to speak to this person. Your guidance counselor may have this information on hand. If you are unsure of who read your application, tell the receptionist who you are, which region you are from, and request to speak to an officer who would have seen your application. Because the admissions officer will want the opportunity to look over your application before talking to you, the receptionist will probably explain that your call will be returned later.

If the officer calls you back, remember to be appreciative and respectful. Explain that you are grateful that she called and that you are contacting her because you received a letter saying your application was deferred. Ask if there is something you could address that would increase your chances of being accepted. Also ask if she is open to receiving updates on your academics and extracurriculars. Don’t forget to confirm the spelling of the officer’s name, and if you feel comfortable, request her email address.

Don’t be surprised if the admissions officer does not share detailed information about why you were deferred. This call is less about gathering details and more about demonstrating that you are invested in the school and capable of interacting respectfully. Always be courteous and mature in all your conversations with the admissions office. Tell everyone you speak to, no matter their position, that you are appreciative of their time. This is a busy period for people working in admissions, so they deserve to be treated politely.

If you don’t hear back from the admissions office, that’s OK. Proceed with the rest of the steps in this guide.

3. Have your counselor make a call.

Your college counselor is probably more familiar with the admissions office in question. Sometimes, this will translate into an officer being more candid about why you were deferred.

If both of you are able to speak to the admissions office, meet to share the information you heard. It’s unlikely that specific details about your application will be given to either of you, but making these calls will show the admissions officer that you are truly invested in this college.

4. Send a letter.

At the end of this article, we provide an example of the kind of letter you should send to the officer you spoke to (or, if you did not speak to a specific officer, send the letter to the admissions office). The letter should include why you are interested in the college as well as academic and extracurricular updates.

5. Submit your senior year grades.

Your senior year grades will be the most important consideration as the admissions officers reexamine your application. Sometimes colleges will get this information through a mid-year report, which your college counselor will fill out and submit.

6. Think carefully about what to send.

Admissions officers are incredibly busy and don’t want to sift through additional information unless it is truly important. Don’t send in anything that will repeat information you have already included. If, for example, one of your current teachers has glowing feedback about you, and she’d share information that your other recommendation letters didn’t, you could consider sending this in the same envelope as your letter. In general, however, it’s best not to submit new documents, particularly if the school requested you refrain from doing so.

7. Include new test scores.

If you received a higher score on one of the standardized tests that you included with your original application, send them the updated score. Do not send new scores if they are lower than the ones you previously submitted.

8. Schedule an interview.

If the college offers you the chance to be interviewed, and you weren’t able to do so previously, accept the offer. Your interviewer will provide new feedback to the admissions office.

9. Keep your options open.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Remember the reasons you applied to the other schools on your list, and keep up to date with their application processes as well.

10. Say thank you.

If you are admitted to the school, make sure to send a thank you note. This is a detail that people rarely take the time to do.

Letter Sample

Here is an example of a letter that you can send to the college that deferred you by mid-February. Make sure to personalize the letter and not copy the sample.

Be genuine in your correspondence. Share your personal motivations for wanting to attend this specific college. Your reasons will be unique to you, so don’t reiterate what you think the college wants to hear. Being honest and enthusiastic in your letter will have the most positive effect on the admissions officers.

Part One: Introduction

If you spoke to an admissions officer on the phone, make sure to thank her in the first paragraph and mention details about the conversation, such as the date on which it took place. While you can write that you are disappointed about the deferral, stay positive as you share the reasons you are interested in the school. Here is an example:

Ms. Anne Smith
Associate Director of Admissions
Columbia University
1130 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027

Dear Ms. Smith,

Thank you for returning my call on Monday (X-date). Although being deferred from Early Decision was a big disappointment, I’m grateful that I still have the possibility to be part of the Columbia University Class of 2019. Columbia has been my first choice since I visited last fall. As someone who loves being challenged academically, I truly enjoyed seeing Professor Allen push his students in the Sociology of Gender course I attended. I appreciate how involved Columbia students manage to be while still taking rigorous courses. The fact that I could major in Sociology while getting to watch dozens of student productions and spend a semester abroad in Argentina is truly thrilling. I know that I would be an active part of the student body.

Part Two: Updates

Explain that you are sending this letter to update the admissions officers on your academics and extracurriculars, and list your achievements in bullet points. The list should be about recent events as opposed to achievements that were already included in your original application. See example below:

I would like to update you on my recent academic and extracurricular achievements. The following has occurred since I submitted my application in October:

  • In the most challenging academic program at St. Mary’s High School, I received five A’s in my AP courses (including AP Calculus) and one B+ in honors statistics in our second trimester. I will continue to excel academically in my last trimester and will graduate with high honors and in the top 5 percent of my grade.

  • In addition to my continued involvement with Habitat for Humanity and tutoring middle schoolers in the neighborhood, my soccer team won our regional tournament. I scored the most goals in the league and was named Most Valuable Player.

  • A portion of an article I wrote for our school newspaper, The St. Mary’s Eagle, was published in our town’s local paper, The Harristown Daily. I was asked to contribute an additional piece about my volunteer work, and it will be featured next month.

Part Three: Conclusion

In your conclusion, explain why you want to attend this school. If it is your first choice, make sure to mention that. If you plan to accept a place if admitted or given a space off the waitlist, include that information as well. Thank the officers for their consideration.

I would be honored to contribute to the Columbia community as a writer for the Columbia Spectator, and would continue my volunteer work as a tutor in New York City. It would be thrilling to learn under prestigious professors and conduct research in the sociology department. If there is any additional information you need, don’t hesitate to contact me at 646.657.5543 or Thank you for your time and consideration. Columbia is my first choice for college. If accepted, I would absolutely come to campus in the fall. There is no school I would rather attend.


Claire Brown
St. Mary’s High School
Harristown, CT 25555
SS# 456 34 1770


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