The hardest decision for a student to receive during the admissions process is usually not a denial; it is a deferral. Many students have often told me that they would have preferred a rejection because then at least they are no longer waiting. But I would take a deferral any day over a denial because it means you are still in the game. You still have the opportunity to wow the admissions committee with new and compelling information such as solid grades, an improved test score, or some interesting or challenging accomplishment. The deferral seems so gut wrenching not because it wasn’t an acceptance but because students aren’t able to decipher what it really means.
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So let’s break it down. There are very few schools, actually just a handful, that defer all students that are not accepted into the early round. With this type of a school, the deferred acceptance rate and the regular round acceptance rate are going to be comparable. Other schools will defer a large portion of students and deny just the small percentage that is below its admissions criteria or does not have a chance of admissions during the regular round. Now the great majority of schools will defer only the students they believe are strong candidates but they just cannot make a final decision yet.
You may wonder what is keeping the school from being able to give you a definitive answer. In many cases, it actually does not even have to do with your application. Remember that schools are not admitting individuals; they are admitting an entire class. They want that class to be well rounded and diverse and bring varied interests and abilities to campus. Perhaps the school is looking to increase its science and engineering program and you were one of too many humanities applicants. Perhaps the school wants to have broader geographic appeal and being from a dense state such as California, New York, or Texas is what got you moved to the regular round. Perhaps too many students from your school with legacy applied and those students were given priority. The list can go on. The lesson here is that in many cases your application could not be stronger, but the college is working within many dimensions.
There are also situations in which the school is sending you the message that you are someone that would fit in at the college, but they need more information. Perhaps they want to see how you do in your senior year classes, which is why it is important to never let up on academics. Perhaps you have been working on a major project and they want to see how it pans out before offering you a spot. It is important to keep up your hard work in all areas of your life—for the school that deferred you, for the schools that you applied to during the regular round, and because you should be doing this for yourself and not to just get into college.
I know it might be tempting to start analyzing the numbers and predicting your chances of admissions in the regular round—I have already received calculations from students deferred this past week. But this is all a waste of your precious time. Focus your energy on what matters and what can make a difference. Before you write off a given school, remember that the admissions office is giving a positive signal by deferring you, not a negative one. It is not telling you that you have fallen short or that you are inadequate. In fact, it is the exact opposite. They are telling you that you have been doing all of the right things and that they just need a little more time to see how you can fit into the incoming class.
It can be hard to be optimistic in the face of rejection, but a deferral is not that. While the waiting game does continue for a few more months, be proud of yourself for your accomplishments and continue to work as hard as you have been. You are going to be a perfect fit somewhere; you just have to wait a little longer to find where that somewhere is going to be.
Purvi Mody is the co-owner of Insight Education and Education contributor to the Daily News, Mercury News, and StudentAdvisor.com and has been interviewed for several articles, books, and radio and television shows. She has worked with students across the US and in other nations including India, China, Korea, United Arab Emerites, and the United Kingdom on the increasingly complex college admissions and financial aid processes.
Have you been deferred? What advice do you have?