Deferred or Rejected: Which is better?

The landscape of college applications and the multiple ways in which a student can apply to college can be confusing. Should a student use The Common Application, The Coalition Application, or a school’s unique application? Likewise, should they apply early decision, early action, restrictive early action, regular decision, or rolling admission? Adding to the confusion of the application landscape, schools have many options of decision choices, wreaking havoc with students as colleges provide a front seat on the emotional rollercoaster. While being admitted emotes elation and being denied is disappointing, what emotion belongs with being deferred, and is this better than being rejected?


What is a Deferral?

For many students, a deferral can be viewed as a second chance at admission. The decision to defer a student is used when a school has decided to hold on making a final decision. Rather than providing students who could be a good fit a rejection letter, the school combines the application with those in the regular decision pool of candidates, allowing the application to be considered again in the larger context of the other candidates for admission. Deferring students is a win-win proposition. Students are provided a second opportunity at admission and colleges can review their entire pool of applicants at one time, thereby having a greater selection.


Why does a school defer students?

There can be many reasons a school decides to defer a student. Generally speaking, here are the most common reasons:

  1. A college desires more information about the applicant. This could be additional test scores, first semester grades, or an additional recommendation.

  2. The application is incomplete. The school wants to provide the student with every opportunity to complete the necessary paperwork to be considered. This is often when the student’s profile is particularly interesting to the school. This could be related to the student’s choice of major, academic profile (read: perfect test scores), an interesting geographic location, legacy, or diversity.

  3. Lack of demonstrated interest. As more colleges take into consideration the student’s interest level – and how they demonstrate that interest, deferring a student allows for the student to show a continued deep and impactful interest in attending.

  4. It’s not you, it’s me. It is often the case that a deferral isn’t so much about the student, but more about the school. As applicant pools continue to grow, they become less predictable about who actually applies. Deferring a student allows for schools to compare students with the larger regular decision applicant pool. Doing so ensures the school every opportunity to build a well-rounded class.


Deferred? What’s next?

All isn’t lost when a student receives a deferred decision. While the student will have to wait a bit longer for a final decision, being deferred, is considered by many, to be a positive outcome. So what can be done?

  1. Determine that the college is still the top choice. While a deferral can stir up emotions of unhappiness, frustration, and resentment, this decision allows for an additional opportunity to clarify a list of college choices. Is the commitment level the same as it was when the early application was submitted?

  2. Is the school seeking additional information? If so, what are they seeking, and make sure you submit additional materials by stated deadlines.

  3. Write a letter of continued interest. If the school is still at the top of the list, demonstrate the commitment to attending by putting it in writing.

  4. Submit additional information. If there are updates to the application since it was submitted in the fall – new honors and awards, additional activities, or leadership, this can be added to the file. If a letter of continued interest is submitted, this information can be captured there. If not, a simple email to the admission office will suffice.

  5. Achieve high marks in the first semester. With a deferral, it is likely that first semester grades will be submitted and counted as additional material in the application file. High marks never hurt.

  6. Submit additional testing. If the testing profile submitted may be reviewed as average compared to the applicant pool, a deferral allows for an additional testing opportunity. If higher scores are achieved, submit those to upgrade this portion of the application.

  7. Complete additional applications. Final decisions on deferred applicants are uncertain. Many colleges will post a range of acceptance rates for deferred students – but they are typically low (read: 10% or less). As such, additional applications should be completed and submitted to a range of schools providing for successful admission outcomes.

It is always good to remember…

  • It is natural to be disappointed about a deferred decision to a first-choice college.

  • You are one of many that have received the same decision.

  • This decision is not personal, but rather a function of large, and unpredictable, application pools.

  • Find comfort with family or friends who have experienced rejection. Talk to a counselor if needed.

  • If the final decision is not positive, it does not mean the student was not qualified.

  • Every year, colleges receive many more qualified applicants than they can admit. Sometimes this variant is tens of thousands of students.

  • There are many schools that will benefit from your being on campus.


A deferral can be disappointing, confusing, and ultimately a good decision. Seek guidance and advice from an admission consultant or a college admission counselor, or give us a call. Doing so will allow families and students to understand the process, available options, and next steps.


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