At some point in your senior year, there will be a moment when your mailbox (or email inbox) holds your future, determining the location of the next four years of your life. This anticipation can quickly turn to disappointment if the letter from your top-choice colleges, to which you applied early decision, is anxiously opened, only to view the word “deferred” in place of your anticipated acceptance.

Thankfully, the college admissions game is not black and white. While a deferral is certainly not the preferred answer, nor does it indicate an acceptance, it should not be considered a rejection. A deferral from an early decision cycle refers to the decision by the school to consider your application in the regular decision cycle. In short, the school is offering you another chance at admission.

There are a few key actions you need to take to increase your chances of being admitted if a school is still your top choice.

Follow the instructions

Your deferral letter from the school will likely let you know any next steps you need to take. Some schools will want more information from you while others won’t. If the admissions office asks you to avoid doing something, take that seriously and do avoid doing it. Unfortunately, students may jeopardize their chances of admission if they do not follow the directions given to them. 

Write a responding deferral letter

Should the college ask you to provide more information, your first action should be to write a deferral letter around January or February.

The deferral letter should provide an update to the admissions committee on what you have been up to since submitting your application to their institution. You should include your first semester grades and any other highlights.

Solicit another letter of recommendation

Solicit a letter of recommendation from someone who is able to offer a different and fresh perspective on your candidacy.  For example, if you’ve only submitted teacher recommendations thus far, consider sending a letter of recommendation from an extracurricular sponsor or work supervisor, who can attest to your abilities and work ethic outside of the classroom.

Refresh Your Resume

Maintain your high quality grades throughout your senior year, as many colleges pay close attention to student’s senior-year grades and course load. Schools will want to see that you can handle the pressure of applying to college alongside pursuing your AP classes — it’s an indicator of your ability to handle a college schedule. Stay involved in all of the activities noted on your resume: clubs, sports, etc.

Take more standardized tests

If your SAT or ACT scores constitute a relative weakness of your application, consider registering for an additional test or two. As evidenced in our prior posts, standardized test scores still matter and improved results can go a long way toward improving your admission prospects. If you decide to take an additional exam, do so in January or February, before your prospective colleges finalize their admission decisions.

Get straight A’s

Study hard. First-semester grades are extremely important for deferred applicants and provide you with one last opportunity to exhibit scholastic promise and a trend of academic improvement. It is also important to note that a number of competitive colleges are willing to review January SAT and/or February ACT scores in their regular admissions processes. Therefore, if you’re not satisfied with your current scores and believe improvement is possible, consider registering for one final test.

What are my chances of being accepted after a deferral?

Even if you dutifully adhere to the above advice, it’s important to remember that your first-choice school may still reject you in the regular admissions cycle. It only takes a quick glance at the sobering numbers to assess the reality of the situation


Despite the weeks spent agonizing over supplemental essays and meticulous attention spent on the application, spend the upcoming waiting game secure in the knowledge that you have presented the best version of yourself to your top school. Now the decision is left to the admissions professionals to determine whether your talents would make a good match with the rest of the incoming freshmen class in the regular decision cycle. Your early application was responsible for getting your foot in the door, and now it is up to your mid-year update to fully open the front doors of your new home for the next four years.