I was Deferred from Early Decision—Now What?

Like the middle yellow light, you can't go forward. So what do you do when you're deferred?

Flickr user Chris Goldberg

One of the most important decisions any student can make is whether or not to apply to a school Early Decision / Early Action. In many senses, the commitment of early decision is a double-edged sword; on one hand, it can end the application process earlier through an early acceptance, but on the other hand, it is binding, only applicable to one school, and can bring disappointment. As guidance counselors will often say, early decision can be a hard lesson, because students experience either bliss or disappointment. However, after the ED results roll out, some are stuck in the middle, in the weird purgatory stage that happens after being deferred.

Being deferred can be worse than rejection for some.

Deferral is, for some, even harder to process than outright rejection. You may believe it is because a school was not sure what to make of you. As a veteran of deferral, I’m here to reassure you: that isn’t the case. While I was later accepted to my ED school, the outcome differs for everyone, and it is important to remember that everyone ends up in a school that is a good fit for them. Even if it’s hard to process at the time, if you are deferred, you’ll still end up in a learning environment that suits you.

Deferrals are more common than you imagine.

If the advice I just gave doesn’t help you, I don’t blame you. In the spring of 2013, I probably wouldn’t have found comfort in it, either. In case you’re like me, here are some facts to make you feel better about yourself. First off, deferral from an ED school is much more common than you think. Over 30% of universities maintain a list of deferred students for rolling acceptance depending on others turning down the school’s offer. While it may seem hard to believe, there is always another student out there who will choose not to attend your dream school, thus opening up a spot in the incoming class.

It’s also important to remember that those who work at the school in charge of admissions don’t complete the process like a robot. That is to say, often, it could help your wait-list status to reach out to the school. Either in the form of a letter or a visit, it couldn’t hurt to reaffirm your interest in attending the school. It might do good to heed the advice I was given by an admissions counselor during my first visit to my current college: “If you commit to us, we’re more likely to commit to you.” Do not let your deferral ruin your dreams, rather, rise to the occasion and try to do whatever possible to show how important the school is to you without pestering them. Even if it doesn’t work out, it will help your mindset to know you did everything you could.

Deferrals are becoming more and more expected.

Don’t let your deferral force you to believe you’re not as good as other students. Depending on the school, deferral might actually be more common than being accepted on Early Decision. This is true for most Ivy League schools, which move about 2/3 of their Early Decision students to a wait-list until accepting them during regular decision periods. In a recent admission period, Dartmouth College received about 1,800 early decision applications. They rejected 700, accepted 465, and deferred 600 to a wait-list. These statistics are telling, showing that for certain schools, being deferred is actually expected rather than a badge of shame.

One thing you can do for yourself, no matter what happens, is maintain a positive attitude. With the possible exception of blues singers, no one ever accomplished anything by letting themselves be miserable all the time. No matter what happens, remember that deferral is not the end of your college career. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

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