Facts About Deferrals: What Does It Mean? Why Did It Happen To Me? What Should I Do Now?

High school students planning to apply “early decision” or “early action” tend to focus exclusively on being accepted or rejected for admission at their top choice colleges. However, many fail to consider the likelihood that they will be deferred admission. Students who fail to prepare for this outcome can find themselves more stressed than those who are rejected.

What Is a Deferral?

While confusing to many, a deferral is simply a second opportunity at admission through the regular admission process. Many colleges use this secondary application review process to give greater attention to applicants who are academically sound, but require additional information before a final decision is made. Deferred applicants are moved into the regular admission process and are evaluated fully. This is advantageous for many students as the overall competition level is lower in the regular decision pool. A deferral also provides the opportunity to showcase improvements in grades and completion of more rigorous courses over the fall semester. These are two significant factors in admission decisions at most colleges and universities.

Why Was I Deferred?

Many factors influence the decision for an applicant being deferred from “early action” or “early decision” to regular decision. Regardless of the reason, applicants must understand that the admissions office is asking the deferred applicant to submit additional materials that reveal more about the student’s senior year. Strategic applicants maximize this opportunity to boost the application with accomplishments, impact on others and awards.

It’s also worth noting that an applicant may get deferred as a result of the admission office’s desire to create balance across the institution’s schools. Offering a limited number of acceptances in the early admission process provides flexibility in creating the final class and requires that some applicants will be moved to the regular admission process. Therefore, many of the deferred students are strong candidates who are applying to popular schools.

Statistics on Deferrals

Numbers and statistics about college deferrals vary greatly from college to college.  Most importantly, the deferral numbers do very little to help students understand their likelihood of gaining admission.  More often than not, students and parents get a false sense of security or hope when reviewing the number of students deferred to regular admission. For example, Georgetown University has previously deferred every student they didn’t accept during the early application rounds.  In contrast, Middlebury College  deferred 12% of the early decision applications in 2018 and rejected the rest. These statistics describe what has happened in the early decision process, but they do not explain or predict anything about your chances of acceptance in the regular admission process.

Bottom line, if you are applying to a highly competitive college (i.e., Top 100 Ranked) you are going to have to beat out thousands of students who have the same or similar grades, test scores and rigorous courses. To be successful, you must have a strategy for standing out among similarly qualified applicants in the regular admission process.

If I Get Deferred, What Should I Do?

Colleges are very invested in having deferred students continue into the regular admission process.  They provide detailed information and instruction about the process. However, each college is different and students must read the requirements carefully and be sure to meet the deadlines.  Here are four things you should consider if you are deferred:

  • First, contact the college and determine what additional materials they want you to submit. An updated report of grades and extracurricular activities is common. Students should request grades from their high school and create a brief statement about their senior year activities. Those two pieces of information may be all that is required.  However, some colleges may ask for additional information such as recommendations. As with any admission application, follow the guidelines from the college and contact them if you are unclear or have questions. It never hurts to ask questions and most times the answers provide insight on what they want and HOW they want it.


  • Next, determine if you want to continue in the admission process with that college. A college deferral can feel like a rejection, even though it is not. Feelings of anger and disappointment can be very strong in the first 24 hours. Give yourself a few days to put the deferral in perspective and then review the additional materials required to continue in the regular admission process.


  • Finish up regular decision applications. If the college is still a top-choice and you are willing to give the time needed to submit the required documents, then go for it.  Be very honest with yourself and remove any negative thoughts and feelings you may have about being deferred and focus on the regular admission process as a new opportunity to achieve your goal of admission.


  • Decline regular admission and move forward with other colleges. Deciding not to move into the regular admission process can be a very wise decision. Consider the time needed to complete the required materials, your interest in this college, and the other colleges that you have received acceptance letters from or are still waiting to hear from. After you consider these factors, it is OK not to apply for regular admission. However, if you make this decision I encourage you to write a short letter (1-page maximum) to the admission office thanking them for reviewing your application. This is very important for YOU as it will bring closure to the process on your terms. Small actions like this will help you make a habit of always showcasing your best self.


A deferral can be frustrating, especially for a student’s top-choice college. At College Prep Professionals, we provide deferral counseling services through our Live CHAT online support.  You can talk with our professionals about your options and strategies that will give you the best chance at admission.  For more information on our deferral consultation, schedule a Live CHAT with us today!