College admissions officers like Early Decision. The more students they can admit through early decision, the faster they can fill their class. And they fill it with the students who have shown the most interest, as well as the qualifications to succeed.

At many schools, even the most selective, the odds favor the well-qualified students who apply Early Decision. At some schools, Dickinson, Lehigh and Lafayette being three example, nearly half of a freshman class was admitted through Early Decision. But not all of these applicants get accepted. Some are denied, of course; they are definitely not a fit. Others are placed in limbo. Neither accepted nor rejected they are deferred for consideration against the larger applicant pool.

If you are dealing with a deferred status what can you do?

  • Contact the admissions office. It cannot hurt to ask about the reasoning behind their decision to defer. They might be waiting for mid-year senior grades, or fall standardized test scores, before they can make a final decision. Every bit of improvement will help. But also make the admissions office aware that their school is still your first choice. Let them know of any good news that might help your application. 
  • Reassess. Ask yourself if this school is really the first choice. Would you still commit, even if there is not enough financial aid to help you cover your costs? Are there other schools that have become more attractive in light of your deferred status? The most successful college applicants  create as many attractive opportunities as they can. Suppose you have your sights set on Cornell or Penn, the two larger Ivy League schools and your grades and test scores put you in the upper half of their pool. You might also qualify for a generous scholarship, possibly a fellowship from your home state university or one in a neighboring state. Or you might receive an attractive offer from another private college or university. The more opportunities you have, the happier you will be.
  • Take advantage of any optional interviews. If the school offers you the opportunity to interview with the admissions office on campus, or local alumni close to home, and you have not previously had a interview, take one. This is a chance to add to your case for admission or, at the very least, to learn more about the school.
  • Consider a later entry. Some schools, including Cornell, Duke, the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, offer the opportunity for first-year students to enter in January instead of September. The key is to use that first semester wisely. It may be an opportunity to work or take on a service project. It may also be an opportunity to accumulate college credits that can be transferred.

I’m not crazy about the last option, if it does not allow you to graduate in the spring. At the University of Florida, for example, students who enter in January are not allowed to take classes during the Fall semester. This means that they miss the peak period for on-campus recruiting if they want to go to work full-time in a high-demand field such as accounting, computer science or engineering. These students are also in school in July, while their peers who graduated in May have started their first full-time jobs. In addition, the more competitive graduate and professional school programs will have admitted their classes for the next academic year before these seniors begin their last semester.

I have read comments from education writers and admissions experts that a deferred applicant’s chances of getting accepted are less than they were under Early Decision.I believe this to a point: if you were expecting merit-based or need-based aid or ranked in the lower half (but not the bottom quarter) of the pool, your chances are probably not as great. If your grades and test scores were competitive, you needed no financial aid or had a “hook,” then you should not give up hope.


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