The day has finally arrived. You’ve received an email stating that your application status has changed. You eagerly hop onto your computer, (or let’s be honest, your smartphone), and check the school’s application website. You’re hoping for an acceptance but if it says rejected you’ll try not to be too disappointed. Besides, you’ve created an excellent college list. But then you read the following: The admissions committee has completed its early action deliberations and has deferred a decision on your application until the spring. Deferred. What does this mean? How do you proceed?

What does it mean to be deferred from a university?

A deferral letter is neither a rejection nor an acceptance. Take a look at the glass half full and think of it as a second chance to impress the admissions committee. A student is deferred when there isn’t enough information or context to put them through a full acceptance. The student might be a strong applicant but the school needs more. They might need to see your entire application and how it stands next to the rest of the applicants. They want to know if it is a good fit for their institution.

Students can be deferred from college during the early decision/early action application pool. According to Boston Magazine, about 74% of Harvard’s early admission pool was deferred to regular decision. Dartmouth admits about 50% of their applicants were deferred to the regular decision after early decision applications have been closed. 

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Why do colleges defer students?

There are many reasons why an applicant would be deferred from a school during the early decision/early action application round. Sometimes the school just needs more information from the applicant to make an informed decision. 

Oftentimes a school wants the applicant to submit more information as the school year progresses. According to the Huffington Post, schools want to give students another chance to perhaps improve their grades or further their extracurricular involvement. They don’t know what their regular decision pool of applicants will look like. By deferring you, they can better decide if you are a good fit for the school and the incoming student body.

Ivy League deferral statistics

Is getting deferred a bad thing and how often do deferred students get accepted? Let’s take a look at some statistics to get a better idea.

During the Class of 2025 admissions cycle, Yale University admitted 837 students through its Single Choice Early Action program.

50% of early applicants were deferred and 38% were denied outright.

In the 2020 application cycle, Harvard and MIT also had high deferral rates, with Harvard University deferring 79.5% of early applicants and MIT deferring 70.9% of early applicants.

This is not uncommon for Ivy League institutions; in fact, many highly-selective institutions often defer the majority of early applicants.

Now, what are your chances of gaining admission after being deferred? 

According to Dartmouth College, an average of 5-10% of deferred applicants are admitted through Regular Decision. Similarly, at UPenn 16% of deferred applicants were accepted through Regular Decision in 2020. Generally, college counselors, such as those at Ivy Coach, believe that deferred Ivy League applicants have about a 10% chance of acceptance. Of course, this varies from school to school, but it is nice to have a general idea of where you stand in terms of admissions.

What to do if you get deferred

Deferred early decision applicants should first decide whether or not they still want to attend their top college. If this school has now been bumped on your list and another school has taken its place, you might want to evaluate how important it is to you to get accepted. If it isn’t a major priority, then you and your counselor can discuss your next course of action.

There are a few key actions you need to take to increase your chances of being admitted if a school is still your top choice. For further insight, check out this article from a Harvard student that was also deferred. 


Follow the instructions

Your deferral letter from the school will likely let you know any next steps you need to take. Some schools will want more information from you while others won’t. If the admissions office asks you to avoid doing something, take that seriously and do avoid doing it. Unfortunately, students may jeopardize their chances of admission if they do not follow the directions given to them. 

If you’re unsure about the best course of action to take, reach out to the college admissions office via email for clarification. Be polite, purposeful, and brief in your correspondence. You do not want to make a bad impression by being rude, expressing frustration, making excuses, or being a nuisance by sending too many (or overly verbose) emails. 

If you’re not sure how to format this type of email, refer to the template below:

Email template for an admissions office
Dear [name of college] admissions,
My name is [blank] and I am reaching out in regards to my recent deferment. Are there any steps I should take to improve my application? Please let me know what you would recommend.
[Your name]

Write a responding deferral letter

Should the college ask you to provide more information, your first action should be to write a deferral letter around January or February.

According to The Princeton Review, this deferral letter should provide an update to the admissions committee on what you have been up to since submitting your application to their institution. You should include your first semester grades and any other highlights. For example, if your football team won the regional championship with you as the captain you should include this in the letter. You should also let the school know that they are still your top choice and would gladly enroll should you be accepted.

Deferral letter template
Dear [admissions representative name here],
I am writing in regards to my deferral for admission to [University Name]. Since submitting my application, [briefly state what you’ve achieved since applying, then provide additional context in the body paragraphs].
Since applying to [University Name] I have [state the various achievements you’ve made since initially applying. This may include a competition that you won or outline your involvement with a specific activity that had a significant impact on the community or yourself. State how this experience or achievement has contributed to your knowledge or personal growth. Finally, tie these experiences back to how you would contribute to the university should you be admitted].
I believe I would make an excellent addition to [University Name] and contribute greatly to the community and the campus. Thank you for your time and continued consideration of my application.
[Your name]

Submit your senior year grades

The school you were deferred from probably wants to see how you would finish off your high school career. After all, early applicants don’t receive their fall semester grades until after they submit their applications. Therefore, a school may decide to take an extra look at a student who may have struggled in a class during their junior year, just to confirm that they are on track.

This is why combating senioritis (the lack of drive at the end of the year) is extremely important. It can seem like your senior year grades don’t matter since they don’t usually see them, but schools you were deferred from would like to know how you did. In fact, your high school GPA and level of academic rigor are the two most important application factors. This is why it’s important to stay on top of your schoolwork and finish high school strong.


Apply to regular decision schools

Regardless of the outcome of the deferral, you should still prepare yourself for rejection by applying to other schools. After all, you don’t know what will happen once you submit your deferral letter and final grades. This is why it is best to have a backup plan and apply to schools’ regular decision that you would be happy to attend. 

If you haven’t started the rest of your college applications, it’s time to get to work! While you may need to submit additional application materials to your top school, don’t let this take up too much of your time and attention. Do your best to assemble competitive and compelling college applications to expand your options come springtime. 

You may consider polishing up your personal statement and adding details to your extracurriculars if needed, but otherwise, you’ll want to focus your attention on writing successful supplemental essays, especially your “why this college” essay. As you likely know, supplemental essays are a key factor in college admissions, so make sure you prioritize writing thorough and thoughtful responses for every school. 

Key takeaways and moving forward

Being deferred is not the end of the world. It is just another opportunity to prove yourself to the admissions committee. If you need clarifications as to whether you should submit additional application materials, reach out to admissions directly. Be brief, purposeful, and courteous in your correspondence. Depending on their response, you may want to write a deferral letter where you reaffirm your interest and briefly outline the progress you’ve made since your initial application. You may also be allowed to provide an additional letter of recommendation

College admissions are incredibly competitive and receiving a deferral or even a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not a qualified applicant. It does mean, however, that in order to increase your chances of experiencing academic success in college you will want to apply to other colleges that are a good fit for you. If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance throughout this process or want a qualified panel of professionals to review your application, reach out to learn more about our services