Your child applied early and got deferred…Now what?

Business illustration showing the concept of deferralEarly Decision and Early Action results roll in from December through February and with them confusion and uncertainty for applicants who received deferral letters.  What does deferral mean?  How does it impact chances for admission?  What can deferred candidates do to strengthen their applications?  The answers to these questions, as with many aspects of college admissions, vary depending on the school and the kid.

What does getting deferred mean?

A deferral means that your child did not gain early admission to a college but did not receive a rejection either.  The admissions committee decided to reconsider your child’s application later in the cycle, along with all the regular decision applicants.

How does getting deferred impact your child’s chances for admission?

The eventual outcome for deferred students depends on the school.  MIT publishes admissions statistics in a wonderfully transparent way, allowing us to see exactly what happened to each segment of its applicant pool.  Of its 6,350 EA applicants who received a deferral, 190 eventually got in from the regular decision pool (an admit rate of just under 3%).  The other 590 students that MIT admitted during the regular decision cycle (who had not applied early) had an identical admit rate—no discernible impact of the deferral there.

Other elite universities do not share their admissions statistics as generously as MIT does, which makes understanding the answer to this question difficult.  I gathered information from a few schools to see how they compare.  For example, Georgia Tech’s admissions office told me that the school admitted 21% of its EA pool, deferred 22%, and rejected 57%.  Similarly, Cornell University admitted 23.8% of its ED applicants, deferred 21.7%, and rejected 54.5%.  Yale chose to defer more applicants than it rejected:  The Yale Daily News published in December 2019 that the college admitted almost 14% of its EA applicants, deferred 56%, and rejected 29%.  I would argue that the larger the segment of the EA pool that moves to the regular decision cycle, the lower the likelihood of an eventual acceptance coming through for deferred students.  That said, your child can take active steps to strengthen her application, should she find herself in that situation.

How can deferred candidates strengthen their applications?

The headline here:  Update the admissions office, don’t just correspond with them.  An update means that your child is adding new information to her file—a new test score result, first place award at a regional competition, publication credit.  Take a look at what I mean, courtesy of one of my students last year:

  • On January 2nd, the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of America awarded me the 2019 Five Pillars Award of Excellence for receiving one of the highest scores in the country on the 2018 Comprehensive Examination in Modern Russian. Out of 500 students who took the exam, 50 received a score of 98 and above, placing me in the top 10%.
  • I proposed and am co-directing an April inter-school theater production, the ticket sales from which will benefit three non-profits combating climate change.  The production will involve 10 Metro New York high schools. 
  • The NYGT Theater program named me a Comedic Performance Fellow for the spring semester

Note how differently this update reads from the standard “Expression of Continuing Interest” that kids frequently write, in which they reiterate their love for a school without providing anything substantive.

New information can also come through a third party, such as a supplementary letter of recommendation, provided that your child did not already submit an extra letter with her early application.  I have referred before to an expression in admissions that my former boss at Yale shared with me:  “The thicker the folder, the thicker the kid.”  I only advise my clients to submit one extra sheet of paper (preferably one side of one sheet) in addition to the required elements of the application.  With that in mind, I hold back any supplementary letter with my early applicants so that we have something to submit in case of a deferral.

Should you have no new information to report, go back to your original application.  Did you omit anything of substance?  Do you see gaps or holes that perhaps you could fill now?  One deferred applicant I know participated in a general campus tour at his first-choice college, but not a separate one for the program at the school to which he applied early.  Revisiting campus to participate in a program-specific tour could give him a newfound perspective on the school that helps him supplement his original application in a meaningful way.

Admissions officers themselves express interest in receiving updates—again, as long as they contain new information and not fluff.  “Demonstrated interest is not something that we really focus on.  If it gives an update, that’s different,” an admissions officer at a Top 40 school told me.  “We want to enroll really strong students.  Going by demonstrated interest undermines the integrity of the process.  It’s not going to be the tipping point if all else is the same.”

Again, though, pay attention to what a school is telling you.  “The letter that goes out to them in December does encourage them to send updates.  If nothing comes in after the deferral, we notice,” a rep from a major university noted.  But a fluff letter that “comes in five days after they get their deferral letter we don’t even look at.”

Finally, along the same lines, if a school offers you the option as a deferred applicant of submitting an additional essay, do it!  In that case, they have done you the favor of removing the guesswork and telling you exactly what they want to hear from you.  Take them up on it.  And whatever you do, don’t wait too long.  Admissions officers go into committee in February.  Ideally you want your update to reach them before they have voted on your application.

Please contact me if your child could benefit from guidance on how to navigate a deferral or waitlist situation.