You did everything right. You were prepared. You submitted your application Early Action (non-binding). Months have passed and you get the anticipated email that there has been an update in your applicant portal. Nervously you log in. You click on the update, and after scanning for words like "Congratulations" or "Unfortunately", your eyes fixate on the words "Your application has been deferred to our regular decision pool." What?!?!? What's THAT supposed to mean? It means you're in limbo, application purgatory. It's not as good as an accept, it's not as bad as a deny, and it certainly is way better than a waitlist (read this post to find out why)! So, what can you do about it? Lots, if they let you. (Side note: if you applied Early Decision, which is binding, and you've been deferred, your binding contract is null and void. You are free to apply ED2 if you'd like to any other school.)
The first thing you do not want to do is panic. The next thing you want to do is think long and hard about the college that deferred you. Was it really the college for you? Do you think there isn’t any school out there that would have been more perfect? If you feel it is worth pursuing, you have to find out some information. There are several scenarios as to why your application has been deferred. The most common is that you've met all the necessary criteria, were inline with the gpa and test score numbers, but others were chosen and not you. It's that simple. College admissions is as far from fair as you can get. So, it's not advisable to dwell on it nor is it worthy of your time to try to figure out their voodoo process.
It's possible that you may have gotten a softer rejection. Getting a deferred answer may be a college's way of politely rejecting you in case you happen to be a legacy student. It softens the blow and still allows you to have hope. You need to determine whether it's false hope or not. The college certainly doesn't want to anger any annual donors just because they decided not to accept their kid.
What to Do About It?
This is not the time to sit and wait for their decision. This is a time to be proactive. First, if your applicant portal asks you if you still want to be considered,then check the box that says "Yes". This will insure they look at your application amongst the applicants that have applied by the regular decision deadline. Now, realize, if there is an Early Decision 2 application, they will fill seats with that set of applicants first. If you've been deferred and are a strong candidate, and you applied as a non-binding applicant initially (Early Action), the college may ask if you want to change your now regular application to ED2. This is their nudge to say, if you do this, your chances have gone up dramatically to getting you to the "yes" pile (helping the college's yield)! If you're not sure about this serious of a committment, you'd better read this post to decide.
The race isn't over, yet. A deferral is a very good thing. It means it's not over! You need to be in contact with college admissions of the school, but not too much. You don't want to seem needy or pushy. Just a quick note reiterating your interest in the school, an update on your grades, and any activities you've been involved with since you submitted the application that they may not know about. Be sure your high school sends the midyear report, and if allowed, send additional teacher/coach/employer recommendation letters (ONLY IF ALLOWED). Here are some proactive suggestions you could do additionally:
Call the admissions officer personally to find out why you were deferred and whether you could provide additional information and where it should be sent.
Try to read between the lines. If you feel you still have a shot, ask your guidance counselor to call on your behalf to find out more.
If you are too scared to call, write a follow-up e-mail and send to the admissions department expressing your continued interest in their school and if they want additional information sent to them like improved grades and test scores if not already requested through your applicant portal.
If no acceptance letter follows, don’t burn bridges. Send a thank you note for their time and consideration. You never know where you will end up. Believe it or not, all correspondence does go into your file that is kept for years!
Don't sweat a deferral, but don't hold on to it like it's a life preserver. You'll enter into calmer waters soon enough and know precisely where you stand with the college by April. In the meantime, celebrate like crazy those times when you open that "Update to Application Status" button and see the words "CONGRATULATIONS!" Any deferral will start to fade because you've moved on.
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