How to Handle a College Early Decision or Early Action Deferral


This month, many students who applied to college Early Decision or Early Action will receive notification that they’ve been deferred. This means they’ve neither been accepted nor rejected – a sort of college purgatory.

Unlike a rejection, a deferral offers hope…you have not been rejected!  The college is asking you to wait. Now you have two things to think about.  One, you need to be realistic; you need to look at the profile and admit rate of the school, as well as the remaining schools on your list.  Two, you have work to improve your chances of turning the “maybe” into a “yes.” Typically, a deferral means the college wants to compare you with the full applicant pool because you did not meet the standards for them to admit you early.

Here are some suggestions to improve your likelihood of college admissions:

  1. Don’t panic.  The college saw something good and promising in your application.
  2. Understand.  The concept of holistic admissions is not perfect or even fair. You will not be able to predict the results.
  3. Get information.  Contact the school’s admissions office and see if you can find out why you were deferred.  Ask to speak directly with an admissions counselor. This call should only last 4-5 minutes and your goal is to make a great impression.   But, first, make absolutely sure that the college doesn’t ask specifically for students NOT to call. You can find this on their website or by making a quick anonymous call a few hours or days before you make the important call. During the important call to the admissions officer, we suggest you do the following: 1) Politely ask why your application was deferred. Engage in a short conversation about it. Do not get angry or be defensive. 2) Ask for suggestions on how to turn your deferral into an acceptance. 3) Reconfirm your desire to attend the school and your commitment to attend if you are accepted. If you aren’t sure what to say, contact your International College Counselors advisor for help.
  4. Improve your standardized test scores. Get a tutor and increase your scores, if at all possible. This is especially important if you think the scores you submitted don’t represent you.  Call one of our advisors to be matched with a tutor who can work with you.  But know schools do reject students with near perfect scores.  Holistic review is a real thing.
  5. Send in your midyear grades, if the college asks for them. Make sure you meet the college’s deadline. Many colleges strongly consider your senior year first semester grades, which is another reason why it’s important not to let your grades slide.
  6. Write a letter. Sincerely express your continued interest in the school and why you believe it would be the perfect match for you. Be yourself. Be genuine. Be upbeat. Be interesting. Be positive. Mention any new and meaningful accomplishments that happened after you sent in your application. Accomplishments can include new activities, new awards, or leadership positions.
  7. Send in 1-2 strong and relevant additional recommendations. The best recommendations spotlight your unique qualities and why they make you an ideal match for a school. Do not send a generic recommendation.  Before you send this, though, make sure you check to see if the college allows extra letters. Many schools will let you send them.
  8. Submit other college applications. If you already applied to other colleges, great. If not, you need to submit applications to a few other schools with higher admit rates and lower academic profiles. Contact us to help review any new applications.
  9. Let go.  There is no one “perfect” school. Life is full of surprises and many students have been pleasantly surprised by going to a different school than what was originally planned.  Don’t feel bad and don’t look back.
  10. Be proud of yourself.  You’re on the right path to the rest of the great adventure called life.

INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE COUNSELORS TIP:  At all times while communicating with the college, be polite, concise, professional, positive and enthusiastic. Don’t express frustration or anger or try to convince the school they made a mistake.