Every year, colleges exercise their right to “defer” students during the Early Action and Early Decision rounds, but every year few candidates really expect it. It’s never easy to receive an ambiguous decision; some would rather have the certainty of rejection so they can move on. Uncertainty is a difficult feeling, but an important one that you will encounter throughout life. 


So what does it mean to get deferred and how does it affect your chances during the Regular round? Here, I’ll try to explain a little bit of the logic around deferral and how it might impact your decision-making.


First, some background. 


Why schools Defer


It can’t be stressed enough that every school has a different policy for how they process EA and ED candidates. Whatever you may have heard is likely an anecdote. Some schools fill almost one-third of their class (Brown) during the early round, while other schools defer nearly 97% of early applicants to the regular round (MIT). Some schools don’t even review candidates from certain regions during the early round, or change their policies from year to year such that the previous year can’t be a good indicator of their current procedure (I’m looking at you, Williams). The truth is, depending on where you applied, the school might not even have looked at your application during the early round (though this is somewhat rare)! 


Suppose you’re an international student seeking aid from any of the non-need-blind schools. In that case, your application may simply have been deferred, so the school can be sure they’re distributing their limited institutional aid to the best candidates. You may well be the best candidate during the regular round, but the only way the school can be sure is by waiting to review your application alongside all the other RD international need-seeking candidates. Remember that aid for international students is always one of the most competitive factors in consideration. 


Simply put, deferral means your application will be considered again during the regular round. 


Here’s what deferral doesn’t (necessarily) mean:

- There’s something wrong with your application; 

- You will definitely get rejected during the regular round; 

- Your future is in peril.

defferal, Spark Prep


Here’s what it does mean: 

- Any new information – first semester/term grades, accolades, scores, leadership, etc. – will be considered in the regular round; 

- All of the work you’ve put into your application and schooling is still relevant! You are still (probably) a good and smart person who will live a successful life;

- You didn’t get rejected! Your application is still up for consideration;

- You should definitely put your best efforts into your RD schools – think of your EA/ED application as if it were being considered for the first time with all other RD schools; 

- Let the past go and focus on the future. 

What you should do if you get deferred

- Send updates and confirm your continued interest with the admissions officer or regional rep;

- Have your counselor send an update on your behalf;

- In some cases, you can submit an additional letter of recommendation.

- Continue to do well in school - this is the most important thing. Sorry, no senior slump for you. 


The above suggestions should be used with caution – only provide information that is relevant and useful to the admissions office and don’t bombard them with emails every week. If they don’t reply to your emails, don’t read too much into it – remember, they’re processing an entire batch of RD applicants and they have a long backlog of emails. 


Most importantly – but also most difficult to accept – remember that you don’t know the exact procedure of your EA/ED school or their policy. 


With just under two weeks left before the major RD deadlines, attitude is everything. 


Stay focused, stay positive, and stay hydrated. You got this. 


By Luke Taylor (Stanford University) – Spark Prep Co-CEO, Director of Admissions Program.

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