February 9, 2024

What is a Deferral and How Should I Respond?: A Student’s Guide

It seems that this year, more students than ever got deferred. At the University of Michigan, for example, the number of students who accepted a place on the waitlist increased from 10,080 in 2020 to 18,575 in 2023. This development—born of changes from the pandemic and efforts to increase access—has made the college admissions process even more stressful for many students.

Not to worry, though. In this blog, we’ll run you through the basics of what it means to be deferred and what you should and should not do in response. These and other tips are just a sample of the guidance you can get from our Class 101 College Advisors.

What Does it Mean to be Deferred from College?

In the simplest terms: A deferral means that the college you applied to is still reviewing an application and plans to make a decision at a later date. A student might be a good fit for their institution, but the college wants to consider the application in relation to the larger, regular decision application pool. 

Is a Deferral Mean I’ve Been Rejected?

Absolutely not. To the contrary, a deferral means that the student remains in consideration. However, given the limited available slots, the college wants to see who else is applying for their incoming class. As Miami puts it, wait lists occur when “there are many more qualified applicants than there is space.”

The college has not made a decision yet and it may still decide to accept a student based on the information already received and new developments over the coming months.

What Should I Do if I’ve Been Deferred from College?

A student’s next steps after receiving a deferral letter are critical. Here’s a few first steps we recommend based on our experiences with colleges around the country.

  • First, Read the Letter Closely and Follow Instructions: When a student receives a college deferral, it can be easy to panic, to throw caution to the wind and reach out to everyone they know to try and get accepted. While this impulse is understandable, students should exercise caution. Many colleges and universities explicitly ask prospective students not to reach out. Doing so anyways can harm one’s application and make rejection more likely. 

As such, a student should be careful. See what that college’s deferral entails and what they recommend before taking any steps. If a student doesn’t understand the letter, they can reach out to a Class 101 college advisor to get their advice.

  • Find Out What the College Wants to See from You: If a college does not explicitly prohibit outreach, then prospective students can try and address any gaps that might have existed in their original application. The reasons for a deferral can vary—from a desire to see a student’s midterm report to needing a better test score on the ACT or SAT. If there is any particular reason for the deferral, the college may state the reason in their letter along with a list of documents or materials they need for making a final decision. A student should make sure to read their deferral letter closely and carefully to understand what the college still needs.

That said, we reiterate that if a college states explicitly that deferred students should not submit additional application materials, they should not send anything further. Students can ruin their chances in the regular round by showing that they do not follow directions. Do not submit what is not requested.

  • Compose a Deferral Letter to the College: If a college does accept additional materials or has invited a student to send in additional documents, they can send those packaged with a deferral letter. This deferral letter should be one page, sent by email and followed by a hard copy addressed to the admissions representative at the college who evaluates applicants from your high school. The Dean of Admissions should be copied to the email.

The letter should show the student’s commitment to the school and how it fits the student’s academic and personal needs. As these situations are delicate, the best option is often to work with a Class 101 college advisor to figure out what you should and should not include in the letter. 

Parallel to sending the letter, you might also arrange a college visit and a face-to-face meeting with an admissions counselor. Both these experiences can give you another chance to assess the college while demonstrating the student’s interest in it.

  • Think About Applying to Other Schools: Finally, a deferral can be an opportunity to think about other colleges. While students should take time to address a deferral and provide additional information if requested, it should not absorb all their time. It is still possible that, even after evaluating a student’s materials in the regular cohort, they will still be denied.

While it is okay to be disappointed with this kind of decision, other options remain open. Students should take the opportunity to consider the other colleges they applied to and the opportunities there. What is most important, in the end, is the student and the attitude they bring to whichever institution they attend.

Need More Help With College Applications or Deferrals?

We hope this piece has been helpful in helping students make sense of deferrals. At Class 101, we provide tailored guidance to each student and their needs. To learn about our various college prep services and get the help you need getting into a college, reach out to your nearest location.

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