So You Were Deferred…Now What?

When you send off those early deadline college applications, you may think the possible outcomes are two-fold: acceptance or denial. But increasingly, students are faced with a third possibility. Deferral. That means your application has been moved into the regular decision pool and you will get a decision along with the other regular deadline students in the spring, instead of receiving an early decision in December. The bad news is you will have to wait a few extra months. The good news is you haven’t been denied and you still have a chance. The University of Southern California announced in January 2023 that it will defer more than 38,000 of the 40,600 students who applied early. It makes one wonder why they bothered with an early deadline at all. But unfortunately, we are seeing more colleges deferring students who applied early. 

Why do colleges do this?

Colleges have the difficult task of filling their spots, but not over-filling them. If they accept too many students in the early round, they will have to accept fewer in the regular decision round. It’s a balancing act, so they want to make sure they aren’t missing the chance to get the best students, some of whom apply regular decision. 

Also, some state universities may limit the number of out-of-state students they can enroll. In Texas, state law requires 90% of UT Austin students to be Texas residents. UNC Chapel Hill is limited to 18% out-of-state students. Schools in Florida (83% in-state) and Georgia (88% in-state) also have legislated limits. So for those colleges, deferrals for out-of-state students can happen more frequently. Unless you have unusually high stats, colleges may want to wait and see how you compare to the rest of the applicant pool before they decide who gets those coveted out-of-state spots.

It could also be that your grades or coursework, while good, weren’t quite as high as other students, so the college wants to see senior year grades. If you’re a student who hasn’t taken many AP classes before senior year but is taking them now, the college may want to see those AP grades to get a better sense of your academic potential. Or maybe your GPA dipped a little junior year and they want to see if it goes back up senior year, or continues to drop. 

Will I still get in?

You might! Don’t interpret deferral as rejection. Remember, the regular decision applicants are usually, as a group, not as strong as the early action applicants. Keeping up those senior year grades will help you tremendously in this situation, so don’t slack off. Did you make contact with your admission rep at a school visit or college fair in the fall? If so, send them an email to let them know you were deferred and you are still interested in attending. The lesson for underclassmen is keeping up your senior grades and getting to know your admission rep will help you if you get deferred, so make the effort!

What do I do now?

First, follow the instructions the college sent you. If they give you a place in your portal to upload new information, use it! Send an updated high school transcript with your fall grades when they become official. Send an updated resume with any new accomplishments highlighted. Did your sports team go to the playoffs? Did you get a scholar-athlete award? Were you elected officer of a club? Do additional volunteer work or complete a big school project? Get a job? Let them know! If nothing has changed, consider using your time in December and January to volunteer, job shadow someone in the career you are interested in, or work on an independent academic project. Create a reason to send them an update so you stay on the radar. 

If the college didn’t indicate whether they want additional information, this is where having a relationship with your admission rep can pay off. Send an email to let them know you are still interested and tell them what you have been up to since you last spoke. In the case of USC, they are telling students not to send anything other than first semester grades—no letters, no resumes, etc. Follow the rules in cases like this so you don’t make a bad impression.

While getting deferred can feel discouraging, use it as a time to evaluate what that college offers and if it still fits your needs. Are you still excited about going there, or have you already been accepted at other schools that seem like a better fit? Don’t get hung up on “collecting acceptances.” If you already have better choices than the college that deferred you, don’t feel like you have to do anything. If you ultimately don’t get accepted, it’s fine because you already have options for a college that’s a better fit for you. And, if it’s a top choice and you’ve done everything you could do, it’s out of your hands now and you will know the decision in a few short months.