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What does a deferral mean, and is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Deferral from college acceptance

The first thing you should know is that there is a difference between a deferral and being placed on a waitlist. If your application gets deferred, it means that you haven’t been accepted yet…but you might be…later. Hmmm…what are you supposed to do with that?!

Well, if you applied as an Early Action or Early Decision applicant, your application has basically been converted to a regular application. You’ll be reviewed again during the normal admission season with all the other applicants. However, you’ve also been freed from any obligation to attend their school if accepted, and you can go ahead and apply to other schools as you wish.

If you applied during the regular admission cycle and have been deferred, then the school probably wants more information before they make a final admissions decision — such as senior year final grades or additional test scores. The sooner you can get it to them, the more likely you’ll get a final answer sooner rather than later.

The waitlist admission decision

If you’ve been placed on a waitlist, it means that the admission folks are done reviewing your file and that you are on their radar, but not their first option. The other applicants that have been accepted received college admission letters of acceptance, but you have to wait and see whether or not they are going to accept you.

In academic terms, you’re a backup. Waitlists are a safety net for colleges, allowing them to ensure that they have enough students to fill all of their vacancies, but it puts you in a spot where you may need to make some tough decisions. Sending in additional information isn’t likely to change the situation, although you should certainly keep your application updated with anything that will enhance your student profile.

Waiting for a college acceptance

If you applied for Early Action or Early Decision and received news that you’ve been waitlisted, then your application will be reviewed again with the regular pool of applicants — just as if you had applied normally. However, if you applied during the regular admission cycle and you’re placed on a waitlist, then you’re in limbo until a spot comes open and your name is at the top of the list when it does.

It’s important to know that schools rank you, and all the other applicants from the regular admission cycle, in order of priority. Those at the top of the list will receive college admission letters first if spots do open up.

Roughly 34 percent of colleges maintain waitlists and not surprisingly, they tend to be either highly selective colleges, or those with low yield rates (low numbers of accepted applicants that actually choose to enroll). The percentage of people accepted from the waitlist varies at each school depending on the number of spots the school has left to fill. Your waitlist letter should include details about the school’s waitlist history. If it doesn’t, then ask! Give the admission office a call and find out:

  • How many students have been on the waitlist in the past
  • How many were offered admission
  • Where you are ranked on the list
  • Details on any major obstacle to your being accepted
  • What types of housing and financial aid may be available if you get in

You may want to ask your guidance counselor for help with gathering this admissions decision information and deciding what to do once you’ve gotten all the details. Even if you are granted admittance later, you may find that the best deals on aid and housing are gone. Holding your breath and hoping for the best probably won’t work to your advantage so make sure you find out everything you can about that school’s policies.

Making your own admission decision

Whether you’ve been waitlisted or deferred, it’s wise to assume that your chances of getting in are not great. Schools have to notify you of your admittance by August 1, but don’t hold out that long to find out.

You should do everything you can to get that college admission letter you want. Let the school know that you will definitely enroll if they accept you by writing a letter to the head honcho in the Admission Office. Also make sure you’ve submitted everything you were supposed to, including your financial aid paperwork. You don’t want to give the school any reason to pass you over in case it comes down to drawing straws for that last coveted spot.

Last but not least, if you didn’t already do it when you originally applied, submit applications to your second-choice schools. If you’re accepted at another school, make plans to go there — send in your enrollment forms and put down your deposit. If you find out later that you’ve gotten into your first choice, you can change your plans, but don’t put yourself in the position of having nowhere to go at all.

Need help getting started on your college search? Search by location, major, admission difficulty, and more with Peterson’s College Search.