Dreams deferred, Part II: some comments on being deferred in the early application season

By Andrea van Niekerk

PART II: What are student to do when deferred?

I spoke previously about the reasons why selective schools may choose to defer a large percentage – in many cases even a majority – of their early applicants.  But the question remained as to what this meant for deferred students who find themselves ecstatic to have the door still slightly ajar at their dream school, but also suspect that they may have to move on to Plan B after all?

Students are right to feel both emotions, because being deferred indeed means that you can still be accepted.  If you are denied early, it is the end of the road at that college.  If you are deferred, however, it means that someone will still have a second look at you in regular decision.  That means that at the very least, the committee thought it best to wait and re-read your application within the larger regular pool.

Schools vary quite a bit in the percentage of deferred students they will accept – for some schools the acceptance rate may be more or less the same as it would be for other students who applied regular decision, and for others, the acceptance rate may be markedly lower.  You should certainly ask schools about this, but don’t be too surprised if the answers are vague!  And don’t be too hard on the admission officers seemingly doing the spin – they are bombarded with hopeful parents and students who want to parse statistics in order to fix their own chances of admission, when such clarity is virtually impossible.

Meanwhile, you should respond to your deferment with both of these possible outcomes in mind.  If you are still wildly keen for the school in spite of their slightly lukewarm response, then tell the admission officer just that.  Some schools may offer you a form on which to state this, but even if the school does not, write the admission officer a letter telling him or her that in spite of your disappointment, all the reasons why you applied early to that institution – the good fit, the great programs – remain valid.  At the very least, you will momentarily reappear on that reader’s radar screen as he or she reads your letter.

You do not, however, want to sit on the radar screen like an annoying mosquito on a wall.  Irking the reader is the last thing you need, and since they just worked through the Christmas break while New Year saw them hunched over files, that is easy to do!  Don’t assume that they made the decision to defer you because they missed some piece of information, and therefore blast them with a repetition of stuff that is already in your file.  They read all of that the first time round! Do not run out to bother your senator, a local alumnus you met in a coffeehouse once, or a professor with whom you had a single email exchange, to write you letters of support.  Unless they can add useful new information that will be meaningful (and none of those examples will fall in this category!), you are wasting your energy.  The only thing the admission officer will be interested in will be new, relevant information (you just won some important academic prize or are newly elected to a significant position, for example) and a short and concise statement of your continued interest.  If you have raved for several pages about your burning desire to attend, the reader will have filed the note long ago and moved on.

Having sent off the note or the email, redirect your energy towards Plan B.  You may, at the end of the day, not get into your dream school, so make sure the rest of your applications are strong.  Be sure to apply only to schools that you would be very happy to attend – after all, you may even end up at your safety school, so make sure it is one where you will thrive.  By doing so, you will ensure that a few months after arriving at the school that did return your affections and accepted you, you will hardly remember having felt such a passion for that other place.  That post-deferment rejection will remain at most a slight rankle in the back of your mind.