52 Weeks to College: Week 23 — How to Handle Deferrals

If you submitted early applications, you should be seeing some decisions roll in. You probably already have a good handle on what it means to be accepted or denied, but what if your application gets "deferred"? Below are our top tips for giving your deferred application the most punch.

Week 23 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Finalize your 10th application.
  • Turn your full attention back to school. (Remember school? :) )
  • Interview with colleges.

Tips & Tricks

1. Treat your deferral as a second chance. If you have applied early to one or more colleges, the decision letter you receive might not actually contain a final decision. Instead of being admitted or denied, you might be notified that you have been "deferred." Although you'll probably find that news disappointing, it means you have not been denied, and that's good news, because it gives you a second chance to be admitted! Your deferred application will be reconsidered in the regular round of decision making. Assuming you have continued on a positive course in the first part of your senior year, you have new information that can and will make the best and most compelling application — which you've already submitted — even better. 

2. Use your judgment about what additional material to send.  In order of most to least influential, here are the five kinds of updates that can help your deferred application:

  • New (and good) grades
  • New academic honors or awards
  • New (and higher) test scores
  • Anything that demonstrates your Core Four
  • Anything you have done that demonstrates interest in that college

You can, of course, also submit other kinds of updates, like additional essays, recommendations, or supplementary materials. But we're not as enthusiastic about encouraging you to submit those, because those kinds of updates get mixed reviews from admissions officers. They tend to be more of the same, and they usually serve only to make your file fatter and more time-consuming for an already harried admissions officer to get through. 

3. Submit one bundled update: Rather than sending things in dribs and drabs, assemble all your updates into one package of materials and submit them all together with a short and polite cover letter. That way, all the updates together will make a cohesive and persuasive statement about you. (Sending updates individually also makes it more likely that something will be misfiled or lost.) If that college remains your first choice, make sure to reiterate that in your cover letter.

You can read more tips about deferrals (and waitlists, too) in chapter 23 of our book

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.