What to Do When You’re Deferred From a College

So let's get this straight—you weren't accepted to your top college, but you weren't rejected, either. Now what?

Like most things in life, college admissions aren’t all black and white. If you applied to college early decision or early action and got a letter saying you were deferred to regular admissions, don't despair. You may be stuck in limbo at the moment, but, lucky for you, there are more productive things to do than idle your days away in suspense. To improve your chances of getting into the college of your dreams, check out these tips for how to follow up with the early-action or early-decision schools you've been deferred from!


Consider your options.

Now that you've had a chance to take a breath and let the deferral sink in, it's time for you to do something about it!

Patty Finer, executive director of The College Admissions Consultant, says it's important to put your chances of being admitted into perspective. The first thing you want to consider is an often-overlooked number on your deferral letter: the admit percentage, which is the proportion of deferred applicants who are expected to be admitted. Many letters will not state an admit rate for deferred ED or EA applicants, but if yours does, take that number seriously. "You run a really high risk if [you're applying] early decision of not getting in,” Finer says. “Try not to be hard on yourself because it is a very competitive process, and a lot of these early-decision schools are very small."

For early-action defers, consider the fact that when it comes to early-action admissions, many schools will only admit those whom they see as slam dunks, so you still have a chance in the regular-decision pool. "If you've been deferred from ED or EA into RD, don't lose hope, because that gives you a second chance to be accepted," says Anna Ivey, founder of admissions consulting firm Ivey Consulting and co-author of the book How to Prepare a Standout College Application.

According to Bari Norman, co-founder and president of college counseling service Expert Admissions, follow up with a first- or top-choice school only if you know for sure that the school is your first choice or a top choice. Even if a school isn't your first choice, however, you should still follow up if you're highly interested in that school.

If, after you've given yourself a reality check, you still think that this school is the perfect fit for you, get ready to move forward and put in everything you've got!


Connect with the admissions team

The first thing you want to do is give the admissions office a call and try to speak with an admissions representative, Finer says. College admissions offices usually divide responsibilities by geographic region, so there is probably a specific rep assigned to you who is responsible for looking at your application in the first round. If you don't know who yours is, try to figure out by searching the admissions website and then connect with her, because she knows who you are and she'll be the one potentially singing your praises to the rest of the committee at admissions selection meetings. You can communicate with your college rep by sending emails, going to the college for a personal admissions interview or meeting at an official rep visit or local gathering in your hometown.

"Connect with them maybe once and say hi, this is my number one school, this is the school I really want to go to, is there any way I could interview with you or come and talk to you to figure out what I can do to better my chances of getting in?" Finer says. "But you don't want to be a pest. You don't want to be calling them every single weekend saying, ‘Did you let me in?’ That's not going to help."

Remember to be polite in any of your communications with colleges. "Keep things short and to the point, and always be polite whenever you're communicating with a school representative, even if it's the person answering the phones," Ivey says. "How you treat people in the admissions office will get noticed."

Also, if you haven't visited the school, try to schedule a tour and a meeting with the admissions officers in person as soon as possible (you can do this through the admissions website). "Sometimes when they see you, there's a whole different perspective," Finer says. "When you're seeing someone on paper, you're seeing it one way, and when you meet the person it can be a totally different picture. They might go, 'I made a mistake; this is someone we really want to have.'" On the other hand, interviews can also hurt you, so keep that in mind and prepare wisely.


Write a letter to the admissions office

Now comes the part where you profess your undying love for the school and tell the admissions officers why the school can't live without you. Okay, so maybe not in that dramatic of a fashion, but that's basically the gist of it.

This letter is typically called a "letter of continued interest." Each school has its own preferred way of receiving these updates, so if you're not sure how the admissions officers want to hear from you, make sure to ask. "And it makes a good impression if you do the following up, rather than having Mom or Dad do it," Ivey says.

So how do you put this letter together?


Express your love for the school

If this school is in fact, without a doubt, your first choice, make sure that comes across. Even if it's not your first choice, you can say that you're highly interested.

"Depending on the school and whether or not you've already said this in your application, if you're able to or want to say why it is your first choice or why you're highly interested, why it's a really good fit, this would be the time to do that," Norman says. "If you've already done that— for example, if there was already a question like that on the supplement and you've already written a whole essay on why— then you probably don't need to do it unless you have something new."

Use your judgment when it comes to how much you want to say, but don't go overboard or be excessively creative. Generally, it's best to be relevant, concise and straightforward, keeping in mind that the admissions reps probably don't want to hear another song on YouTube about how much so-and-so desperately needs to be accepted.

Say something along the lines of, "Awesome College remains the university that I am most excited about attending. Of the many schools that I visited during my college search, Awesome College and its program in Awesomeness is the best match for my interests and aspirations because..."

Keep in mind that the fact that you really want to go to a school isn’t reason enough for that college to admit you. The answer can't stop at, “If you take me, I'm definitely going to come”—you have to prove why you’d be a good fit. Be confident in knowing how you'll fit into the admitted students pool and provide the admissions team with solid reasons to accept you.


Share your new, relevant accomplishments

You want to remind the admission officers what they liked about you in the first place, and then give them even more reason to like you. This letter is designed to show the admissions team that not only are you still committed to their school, but, oh, wow—look at all the new things you've accomplished while you've been stuck in limbo!

Since you want to give yourself time to accomplish new things, don't follow up with a school immediately after you were deferred. "You have to find time for things to happen and for things to unfold," Norman says. "If you write immediately and then you have another bunch of weeks and opportunities for things to happen, you don't want to write three more times between being deferred and being notified in the spring."

Instead, contact the admissions officers thoughtfully. Keep in mind that each school may also have its own instructions about what they do and don't want you to do and what the timeline should look like, so pay close attention. Generally, it's a good idea to send your letter in February, preferably late February, because that's when final rounds are about to begin.

One update is appropriate in most cases. First, think about what has changed since you applied and if there’s new, relevant information you would like to share, both academic and extracurricular. "There are things that may have come up but they're not necessarily things that warrant any following up," Norman says. For example, if your first-semester grades came out and you got more Bs than As, you don't want to draw attention to that.

However, grades definitely play a huge part in swaying decisions one way or the other. "Commit to doing your best during senior year and not slacking off, because your senior-year performance is still being evaluated," Ivey says. "Typically, you will be required to have your high school … counselor send an updated school report along with any updated grades. Other kinds of updates will probably be at your discretion, and you can decide which ones look good enough to send to the schools as optional updates from your end."

So if your first-semester grades were great, draw attention to them, and maybe even ask your counselor to put in an additional good word for you if she hasn't done so already.

If you've recently accomplished something meaningful or done something you're proud of, like gaining recognition in an extracurricular activity, doing well in a challenging course, accepting a new leadership position, receiving new honors or awards or doing well in a competition, include it in your letter.

You may also want to consider including extra teacher recommendations or other documents, but only if it's significantly going to help your chances of getting in. For example, if you did extremely well in a course fall semester of your senior year and you didn’t have the chance to ask your teacher for an academic recommendation before you applied, you might want to ask for one if you think the letter is going to be vastly different from your other ones. Or, if you just wrote a paper on an ongoing research project that you've been working hard on, it might benefit you to send in an abstract. It's all about being relevant as opposed to being gratuitous.


Keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better

So how much information is too much information? Unfortunately, it's a fine line that depends on the situation. Generally, for deferral letters, more information is not necessarily better, and relevance is crucial. "The best thing you can do for yourself is to follow instructions," Ivey says. "Make sure to send schools anything that's required, and exercise judgment about sending them things that aren't required. More does not equal better in college admissions, and that includes updates."

According to Norman, it's usually a good idea to give one update. If there's an additional something small that makes sense to include, add it, but beyond that, it might be too much. "You have to be mindful about what the college asks for in the application and not go totally overboard, because then you just get to the point where you're just not following instructions," Norman says. "You could turn something that could work in your favor into something that works against you because you don't know when to stop."

So use your best judgment, be mindful and trust your instincts when deciding what to include in your letter.


Be yourself

It can be easy to get caught up in this arduous process and become someone whom you think the admissions team is looking for instead of being yourself. When writing your follow-up, make sure that your true self comes through. Definitely avoid coming across as bitter, angry or depressed, because that's a huge red flag to the admissions officers. Instead, show them what an interesting and unique person you are and why you would be a great addition to their student body.

"You don't need to put on a play," Finer says. "You just need to be yourself, down-to-earth, serious [and] committed, and show that you know something about the school."


Let it go and move on

Once you've submitted your masterpiece of a letter, the only thing you can do now is wait and hope that it's enough. You shouldn't expect much of a response after you follow up—maybe just an acknowledgment saying that the admission rep will add the new information to your file. While you wait for regular decisions, it's important to stay realistic and have a back-up plan.

"It's critical that you not let go of the other schools that you're applying to," Finer says. "As much as you want [to go to] this school, it's important to continue going forward with submitting your applications to the other schools, because if you don't get in, you don't want to end up saying, 'I have nowhere to go.'"

 

Don't give up hope just yet! Being stuck in deferral limbo can be a difficult place to be, but you never know what could happen as a result of one extremely persuasive letter. If the odds are in your favor, follow through with what you said in your letter and make that college proud it gave you a second chance.