Deferred Admission in Early Decision: What You Need to Know

The following piece was written by Rachel Korn. Rachel has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer, as well as the founder of her own admissions consulting firm. 


You’ve heard back from your dream school about your Early Decision (ED) application – no, not rejected; no, not admitted; deferred – your application will be re-read and reconsidered with the Regular Decision (RD) applicant pool in the coming months for a final answer later.

In the meantime, what can you do to improve your chances of admission? How can you manage this time period as well as your applications to other schools?

Behind the decision:

Most of the time, a deferred ED application falls under a college’s admission criteria and/or admitted student norms. For example, grades may not always have been strong, class schedules may not always have been demanding, testing may have been low, essays may have been poorly executed or in poor taste, or activities may have been slim. Sometimes, these issues can be resolved or improved, and in such cases, the applicants can have a fair shot at admission later.

There are other reasons, though, why you may be deferred that are not as clear-cut. You may come from a high school that sends many annual applications to your college and the college wants to wait to see you in the context of the rest of your high school pool in RD. You may not be admissible for some reason, but you are the kind of candidate the college seeks, so the college wants to send a positive message to you and your community that you are, indeed, viewed as talented. You may have connections to the college and the college does not want to say ‘no,’ but is also not ready to say ‘yes.’ In many of these cases, politics play a role in resolving the decision in RD.

What can you do?

First of all, send the college a letter that can be considered when your application is re-evaluated. While you want to remind the college how much you are committed to attending, your passion for the college is a given since you applied ED, so the letter should focus on explaining anything relevant to what you suspect could be the cause of the deferral. Perhaps you have not yet shared enough information in your application about something that worried the admissions officers. Moreover, you should be sharing updates about anything significant that could impact your application – like new test scores that you will be sending, the resolution of an incomplete grade, or new awards.

It may be possible to correspond or speak with the admissions officers in charge of your application to see if there is something specific you can share to help them in their decision-making. Sometimes, you may gain feedback, overt or subtle, about what has happened.

Do note that how you handle this situation will shape how the admissions office feels about you. The odds are very high that you are liked – remember, your application could have just been rejected – and you want to keep it that way. Contact the admissions staff only when you are calm and thoughtful. Shouting on a phone or sending weekly e-mails bombarding the office will not persuade them to admit you. Plan your contact strategically, speak and write thoughtfully, and take cues from the admissions officers about how much your contact/information is wanted.

Prepare for new directions.

Although ideally your “defer” will turn into an “admit,” you need to start to plan for the possibility that it may not. Make sure that you are continuing to prepare – with the same care – applications to other schools for RD. As much as you want to hope for the positive answer from your dream school, you actually will help yourself if you can start to also focus on your other favorite options. While completing the remaining applications, remember why you liked those schools in the first place. You may have a dream school, but by no means is it the only school you can love and in which you will thrive.

Try to keep a balance between hopeful and strategic for Regular Decision. When all of the application results finally arrive, you will then be assured to have an exciting college option for your future.


Visit Rachel’s Admissions Consulting site.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.