Why do Universities Defer Students?

You’ve worked hard on your early applications, collected recommendation letters, proofread your essays numerous times, and then finally apply to your dream school, only to hear that your application has been deferred. Often, this comes in the form of a letter from the university where you applied saying they were not able to offer you a spot in their incoming class at this time, but that your application will be reconsidered alongside their regular decision applicants. Many students who find themselves in this situation may be wondering why universities defer students and how to understand their admissions decisions

What is a Deferral?

A deferral is one of three admissions decisions that students who apply early may receive

An admissions deferral means that the university where you applied has not admitted you based on your application, nor have they rejected it. Rather, they want to re-evaluate your application in the next round of admissions decisions. Deferrals are only an admissions decision that students will receive if they have applied early – either early action or early decision. In most cases, the deadlines for early applications are November 1st, though some are later and some are earlier.

A deferral is, in essence, a college telling you “maybe”. That’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a sign that you prepared a strong application, but that the college was not ready to say “yes” and admit you – yet. However, a deferral is not a rejection. If the college or university where you applied felt your application was not competitive, you would have received a rejection. Instead, a deferral means they want to re-evaluate your application in the context of their larger applicant pool, those students who decide to apply for regular decision, as opposed to early decision.

Why Did I Get Deferred, And Why Do Universities Defer Students?

It can happen for a variety of reasons, but it means the same thing for applicants.

Universities defer students for a number of reasons. In terms of their applicant pool, universities defer some students because they are not ready to make a final decision about those students' applications. Maybe the university received a record-breaking number of early applications and deferred some students who may be on the borderline between being admitted and not admitted. Alternatively, maybe the university expects a surge of applications for regular decision and wants to keep spots at their school open to see who applies. There are a number of reasons internally within universities, many of which won’t be known to applicants, that might influence the number of students accepted early vs. the number of students who are deferred.


College applicant whose application was deferred.
Why did my College Application get deferred?

On the individual level, students might get deferred for a number of reasons. Maybe the university noticed an upward trend in the students’ grades during junior year but wants to wait to see what their academic performance is like in the first half of senior year. Maybe the student belongs to an overrepresented group or is applying to an oversubscribed major, and the university wants to wait to see what the full applicant pool looks like. Remember that in the early round, universities don’t yet know what their full applicant pool will look like, so they will only admit or reject students whose status they are certain about. Any student who they are unable to make a decision about, or who they would like to wait to make a decision about until they see the full applicant pool, will likely be deferred.

What does a Deferral Mean for my Chances of Being Admitted?

Every year, colleges admit a number of students who they deferred in the early round

A deferral decision, just like a waitlist decision in the regular round, can feel confusing to applicants. However what both of these decisions mean is pretty simple – that the university wasn’t ready to make a decision about your application, yet. That often means they are waiting to see who else applies in the regular decision round, and are also waiting to see what updates and new grades their deferred applicants get in the first semester of senior year. Remember that students who apply early do not have grades for senior year classes as part of their application, so most students who are deferred will have their senior year grades evaluated.

Every year, many deferred students are admitted during the regular decision round. However, it is impossible to predict what a deferral might mean for your chances of being admitted since it is impossible to know who else is in the applicant pool and what factors colleges are considering, how many students are already admitted, and for what reasons. Furthermore, if you are deferred you will not complete a new application, rather the application you already submitted will be re-considered, with any new information you submit being taken into account. While you are not able to re-do your admissions essays or change your application, you can update the university that deferred you with any new grades you’ve received or any achievements or accomplishments that you have received after submitting. Therefore, the best thing you can do if you are deferred is to keep your grades as high as possible and continue working hard in school. You should also update the university that deferred you with updates that have happened since you applied, and also to reaffirm your interest in studying there. Some colleges will ask you to opt-in to being reconsidered for regular decision, others will do this automatically, so be sure to read all correspondences from the university where you applied.

Next Steps if you are Deferred

If you are deferred, there is often not very much that you can or should do. You should talk to your college admissions consultant for expert guidance in the next steps, based on an understanding of your unique application and its strengths. In general, it is not advisable to call or email the school that deferred you unless you are invited to do so. Instead, you should continue to focus on your schoolwork and extracurricular activities and continue the hard work that got you here in the first place.


Don’t get discouraged. Remember that a deferral is not a “no”, it is a university saying “not yet.” You should also prepare a short, concise summary of any academic, extracurricular, and personal updates that you want to share with colleges that have happened after you submitted your application. Keep your spirits up, and keep up the hard work. If you could use the help of an admissions consultant, our team is standing by! Contact us today.


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