Deferred, Not Defeated

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When the pandemic first hit, everyone predicted that college applications would decrease similar to enrollment numbers. But in fact, at most select schools, the opposite has occurred. For example, for the Class of 2025, applications to Brown increased 22% over last year, Duke by 17.76%, University of Pennsylvania by 23% and Harvard by an astounding 57%. 

There are many reasons for this increase. Digital platforms like virtual tours and events had a broad reach and made college information more accessible. This increased awareness, and many students applied to schools they may not have applied to before. Test optional policies also lowered the barrier, and as a result, students thought why not apply to more schools and why not reach high since “you never know.” Unfortunately, this increase in applications led to an increase in deferrals at the top schools. 

While this year has been exceptionally challenging, there has been a trend in college admissions where colleges are deferring students by the thousands. Reasons include a huge increase in applications and not enough staff to get through them all, and colleges protecting their yield and prioritizing institutional needs such athletics, legacy, diversity and special talents. That is why we always help our students build a college list that includes several colleges they are likely to be accepted to and will love. 

A deferral means the committee would like to see your senior year academic performance and maybe additional information such as honors, leadership, and significant accomplishments. Your application will be reconsidered in the regular decision round, usually in February. 

What to do if you are deferred 

Read the deferral letter carefully. Some colleges will ask you to send your first semester grades and nothing else. Some will invite you to send additional information such as honors and awards. 

  • Accept the deferment offer online by submitting the form usually in your portal no later than February 1st. 
  • Have your high school guidance office send in the mid-year report, which has your first semester grades. 
  • Write a Letter of Continued Interest by the end of January, updating the admissions office with your academic and extracurricular activity performance. See example below. You can send it directly to your admissions counselor or the admissions office. This letter should include your first semester performance, any exemplary academic projects, and any major accomplishments such as: Did you win an essay contest or have a solo musical performance, or get the lead in the school play, or go to State in tennis, etc. (Note: Some colleges and universities do not welcome letters of continued interest. Before sending anything to a school, be sure to read both your decision letter and the admissions website carefully to see if the school has said anything about sending additional information.) 

If the college allows you to send more information (not all colleges allow this), here are some other ideas: 

  • Test scores: If you took additional tests in November or December and like your scores, send them to the deferred college. Make sure to let the admissions office know you sent in the new scores. 
  • Email: Write a short email to the college’s admissions officer for your region, and express your strong desire to still attend the college. Commit to going there if you get in regular decision. 
  • Additional teacher recommendation: Ask a senior year teacher, who has not already written a letter for you to this school, to write you a letter of recommendation. This letter should emphasize your academic talents and why you will thrive at that college. 
  • Counselor contact: Get an updated letter of recommendation from your guidance counselor to send in with the mid-year report. 
  • Alumni or campus interviewer: Contact your alumni or campus interviewer–if you think you had a good interview. Thank the interviewer again and then ask for any advice about moving from deferral to admissions. 
  • Outsider letters: If you can think of one major person (non-teacher) who knows you extremely well and can attest to your leadership and initiative, ask that person to write a letter. Do not ask people who do not have major contacts with school to contact the school. Do not have anyone other than people who know you personally write letters. A perfect person is someone for whom you did a major project for this year –volunteer leader, youth group –only someone who can attest to new work this year and who knows you really, really well. 

We recommend you do your best to showcase your applications during the deferral process. While a deferral is not a denial, once you have updated them and reiterated your interest, you should move forward and focus on the remaining colleges on your list. We are here to help with the deferral process, so let us know if you have questions, want to discuss strategy, or would like us to edit your Letter of Continued Interest. There is some kind of destiny to the unpredictable admissions process and it always seems to work out in the end. We are here for you! 

Example Letter of Continued Interest: 

Ms. Jenny Hill 
Assistant Director of Admission 
State College 

Dear Ms. Hill, 

Thank you for taking the time to read my application. We met in September after I finished an official State College tour. At that point, I already had explored several universities without finding my best fit. I ended my State College visit with the certainty that my drive, determination, and loyalty would mesh well with the campus and California culture. With a deferral from early action to regular decision, I want you to know that State College remains my first choice. I absolutely would accept an offer of admission. 

Since I first applied, I’ve deepened my mock trial involvement as a varsity lead lawyer and have helped to propel my high school team to a 10-0 start, a conference championship, and a first-place victory in a separate major tournament. We have our sights set on the national tournament again! In addition, I’ve become increasingly involved with peer ministry at my local church. I continue to maintain a rigorous academic schedule which includes AP Psychology and AP Literature, as well as Honors Spanish 4. I’ll send my first semester grades at the end of January when they’re available. 

I’m very excited about the prospect of joining the State College Department of Psychology and the pre-law program. I appreciate your consideration. 


Ben Smith 

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