Navigating College Deferrals: Understanding and Turning Them Into Acceptance

college deferral

Navigating College Deferrals: Understanding and Turning Them Into Acceptance

Published on August 19, 2023

college deferral

The college application process is a whirlwind of emotions and anticipation. After months of preparation, receiving the word “deferred” can feel like a curveball. But while it’s not the immediate ‘yes’ many students hope for, it’s not the end of the line either. Dive in as we demystify college deferrals, explore what they truly signify, and offer guidance on navigating them effectively.

What Is a College Deferral?

A college deferral occurs when an admissions committee decides to revisit your application during the regular decision period rather than making an immediate judgment during early application rounds.

This doesn’t mean acceptance or rejection. Instead, the committee wants to see how your application stands compared to the broader pool of candidates. Additionally, they might be interested in your most recent academic accomplishments.

Think of a deferral not as a setback but as a second look. It allows colleges to assess updated academic information from your final school semester.

Why Do Colleges Defer Students?

Colleges operate with strategic goals in mind. When they defer students, it isn’t a hasty decision but rather a well-considered choice influenced by multiple factors. Here’s a deeper dive into why colleges might choose this option:

  • Comparative analysis: Deferrals allow colleges to compare early decision or early action applicants with the broader pool of regular decision applicants. This ensures they admit a class aligning with their institutional goals and diversity initiatives.
  • Incomplete or evolving academic records: Colleges might want to see a student’s academic performance for the entire senior year, especially if earlier grades showed fluctuating performance or if the student indicated they enrolled in challenging courses for their final year.
  • Institutional needs: Colleges aim to admit a well-rounded class, not just well-rounded individuals. By deferring some applicants, they keep their options open to ensure a diverse mix of talents, backgrounds, and interests.
  • Capacity: Sometimes, there’s an unexpectedly high volume of highly qualified early action or early decision applicants. Deferring some allows the college to manage its acceptance rate and yield (the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll).
  • Demonstrated interest: Admissions officers are often keen to gauge an applicant’s genuine interest in the institution. A deferred student who continues to show enthusiasm and strong desire to attend can stand out when their application undergoes review again. (Download our demonstrated interest guide here.)
  • Holistic review: Colleges often look beyond just grades and test scores. They consider extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and more. A deferral might mean they need more time or information to assess an applicant’s holistic value.

A deferral isn’t a negative verdict on a student’s capabilities or achievements. It’s a testament to the admissions process’s complexities and the many factors colleges weigh when sculpting their incoming class.

Is It Better to Be Waitlisted or Deferred?

The deferral and waitlisting processes share common elements, but they’re fundamentally different:

Deferral: A deferral is a postponement of the decision. A student’s application will be considered again during the regular admissions timeline. Unlike early decision acceptances, if a deferred student is later accepted during regular decision, there’s no binding obligation to attend.

Waitlist: Once waitlisted, the college has concluded its review of your application. The admissions committee may or may not admit students from the waitlist. And unlike a deferral situation, new information does not usually change a waitlist decision.

>>RELATED: Waitlisted or Deferred? Your Guide on What to Do Next

How Do You Turn a Deferral Into Acceptance?

  • Stay engaged: Regularly communicate with the college, but check their specific guidelines. Some colleges welcome additional information, while others prefer minimal follow-ups.
  • Update your achievements: Inform the college of recent academic, extracurricular, or standardized test score improvements.
  • Reiterate your passion: Craft a potent deferral letter. Describe why the college remains your top choice, elaborate on your fit with the institution, and emphasize what you’ll contribute to the campus community.
  • Deepen your college connection: Actively engage with the institution by attending information sessions, requesting interviews, and seeking opportunities that showcase your genuine interest.
  • Enhance your application: Consider submitting updated recommendation letters or an improved resume. Share any other essential information you haven’t already sent.

Insider Advice: Student Needs to Take the Lead

An admissions officer from the Road2College Facebook group emphasizes the student’s role in managing a deferral: 

“If there is a question about an application decision, the student should be the one to call about it. There are a variety of reasons so I’ll just list a few: privacy laws; it’s their future so they should take ownership; they deserve to hear answers firsthand not secondhand filtered by a parent or counselor; students need to learn to advocate for themselves; parents have to begin backing off from doing important things for their soon to be of legal age children. Not always easy to do and yes I’ve been there done that, so I can speak from both personal and professional experience.”

To sum up: For reasons ranging from privacy laws to promoting self-advocacy, it’s crucial that the student, not parents or counselors, communicates directly with the admissions office.

The Bottom Line

While a deferral might feel like a setback, it’s an open door. It’s an invitation to further engage with your dream school and make a stronger case for your place there. Stay optimistic and proactive, and remember that the college journey is as much about growth as it is about outcomes.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

College Dorm Checklist: Full List and Advice for Parents of Incoming Freshman

Top 6 Campus Safety Tips to Share with Your College Student

Sending Your Child to College: Advice from a Mom Who’s Been There




In this article:

Upcoming Events

Similar Articles for You

Dear Roadie: Should I Let My Insistent Daughter Apply to Expensive Out-of-State Colleges?


Dear Roadie: Should I Let My Insistent Daughter Apply to Expensive Out-of-State Colleges?

Dear Roadie: My daughter is dead set on attending an out-of-state college. The tuition is far more than for in-state...

Dear Roadie: Should I Get A Second Job So My Daughter Can Graduate Debt-Free?


Dear Roadie: Should I Get A Second Job So My Daughter Can Graduate Debt-Free?

Dear Roadie, I am flabbergasted at the cost of college today. My daughter is a stellar student, and the last...

Dear Roadie: Do Parents Need to Become College Admission Experts? I’m So Lost


Dear Roadie: Do Parents Need to Become College Admission Experts? I’m So Lost

Dear Roadie,  I’m the mother of a 10th-grader, and I’m realizing I need a crash course in college admissions. I...

Become a Member

At Road2College you’ll find everything you need to make the admissions and paying for college process less stressful and more transparent.


Explore R2C Insights™ — your source for finding affordable colleges and merit scholarships.


Get coaching on admissions and college financing.


Join Road2College where parents and experts work together to inform and inspire college-bound families.