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Deferral Decisions Require Pragmatic, Optimistic Approach

Accept, reject, and waitlist are scenarios that run through the minds of college applicants until spring, when colleges send out their decision letters. Yet, this time of year, some early admission applicants are getting familiar with another application outcome: deferral. The jury will be out for these applicants, rolled over to the general applicant pool, until the general admissions cycle has run its course.

Deferral can signal hope, or be like a mirage in the desert, something that was never there in the first place. The circumstances surrounding the deferral are what really count here.

Why do schools issue deferrals? "Sometimes, schools want to see a high school senior's first quarter or semester grades before they make a decision" on early admissions applicants, says Senior Consultant, Nadine C. Warner.

Warner, a former a former assistant director of admissions at the University of Chicago, adds, "Other times they want to see if other students from the school are going to apply during the regular admissions cycle so they can compare this student with the other students." The point is that schools want to see how an early decision applicant looks in comparison to the big picture, the general applicant pool. Admissions officers are eager to fill up first-year classes with top applicants and in the process bolster their school's prestige by attracting the most accomplished students.

Deferral applicants also include strong, solid students, those who are "full pays" – a welcome sight when a school's student-aid budget needs some help, says Senior Consultant Deb Schmidt, a 20-year veteran of college admissions who has held positions at Carleton College and Cornell University. And then there are the children of large donors or legacy applicants – those applying to a parent's alma mater – who lack the required academic record for admission. Deferral here amounts to a soft landing, a gentle nudge for unqualified applicants to go elsewhere, saving the applicant from an outright rejection.

Applicants managing a deferral decision need to dose themselves with pragmatism and optimism.

First, deferral applicants have a serious "to do" list in front of them. They need to maintain if not improve their academic record for mid-year reports. The colleges who issue deferrals will require transcripts and records in late January or early February, or, in some cases, in spring. They also need to update schools with any new, positive accomplishments, such as getting an award, which can tilt a deferral toward acceptance.

College admissions officers won't need reminders of academic or extracurricular accomplishments previously submitted by applicants. The emphasis here is on providing colleges with significant, new information that strengthens an applicant's standing. Students may also want to send letters of recommendation from their senior-year faculty, who were not familiar enough with students by early admissions deadlines to provide informed opinions of them. High school guidance counselors can also be a resource. They can probe for information about why the school issued a deferral and serve as a reliable advocate on the student's behalf.

When re-applying in the general round, high school seniors will want to be sure that their correspondence with the school reflects a professional tone. Though deferral can be very emotional, applicants need to keep their disappointment in check when they contact schools, and ask any teachers who write recommendations on their behalf to do the same. "Deferred applicants should resist the urge to send in recommendations from people who are steamed or incredulous that they were not admitted early, or to inundate the selection committee with lists of new awards," says Schmidt. She also counsels applicants to be selective about what they send in.

Schmidt and Warner both urge deferral applicants to start selecting backup schools. "A lot of students pin all of their hopes on their early school and do not even consider other schools until the last minute, like when they find out they've been rolled over to the regular notification pool, so their holiday break is spent scrambling to find schools as opposed to carefully preparing well-thought-out applications," says Warner.

Schmidt also encourages to deferral applicants to take a reality check, and not let themselves get stuck in the fantasy that they'll get into their early decision school. "The main thing deferred students should keep in mind is that there is a place for them somewhere, and to not to be discouraged," she says. "They should be assiduous in filing other applications and begin to try to fall in love with other places. In the meantime," she adds, "they should respond appropriately to any requests from the school to which they applied early decision. Most schools will just ask to see mid-term grades from spring semester."

Finally, says Warner, "Students should let go of their notion of 'the perfect school.' There are thousands of schools in the United States and students will get as much out of their college experience as they put in, no matter where they go."


AdmissionsConsultants provides deferral assistance to early decision and early action applicants. Services include application review and feedback by seasoned college admissions advisers. They all have extensive experience as admissions advisers at selective colleges making accept, reject, waitlist, and deferral decisions for thousands of applicants. To learn more on how to best chart your course after getting a deferral notice, call 1.800.809.0800 (+1 703.242.5885 outside the US and Canada) or email us today.

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