Deferrals: Decisions Delayed

This past mid-December week , I have been watching with interest the various college-decision threads on the College Confidential discussion forum. Some of the results posted by applicants have been painful to read, according to their own comments. The outright denials, coming from Early Action and Early Decision applications, are obviously the most upsetting. However, the decision that seems to cause the most agony is the deferral.

A deferral in December means that no final decision will be made until spring, perhaps as late as April of next year. The practical impact of a deferral involves not only a non-resolusion but also a mad scramble to submit any remaining applications before the traditional January 1 deadline. That rather ruins the holiday break for those who have put their college eggs into the ED/EA basket. It’s not a happy time.

One particularly disturbing statistic involves the number of deferrals handed out by ED/EA schools. For example, these stats came forth from Yale this week:

Yale admitted 753, or 16 percent, of its early applicants to the class of 2019 from a pool of 4,693. Just over half, 57 percent, were deferred for reconsideration in the spring, while 26 percent were denied admission and 1 percent withdrew or submitted incomplete applications.

Fifty-seven percent deferred is more than “just over half,” in my view. That’s closer to 60%. As I mentioned, watching the College Confidential forum threads was a study in frustration. Applicants noted deferral after deferral and added a full range of negative emotions.

frustrated student

So, if you’re one of the deferred masses, how should you be thinking about that? Let’s take a look at some approaches that my be of value to you.

Before I get to that, though, let me give you a heads-up about another maddening possibility that lies in the high grass for deferred applicants: the infamous waitlist (or “wait list,” if your computer’s spellchecker doesn’t like the one-word designation).

Yes, being deferred is like holding your breath for more than three months, but ending up on a waitlist is like going to purgatory. Nevertheless, you do have some active marketing options available to you, which I’ll explain in a moment. These can accomplish two things. First, this structured approach to promoting yourself and your position will help time seem to pass more quickly. In the case of deferrals, you’ll be waiting up to three-and-a-half months to find out your fate. If you’re just going to sit and wait, doing nothing, these months can seem endless, especially if you live in a cold and snowy climate where there’s a conspicuous lack of sunshine. Snowy weather sometimes seems to hang on until July.

Now, to the issue at hand: What should you do if you end up deferred (or waitlisted)? The approach is essentially the same for both. You must undertake a carefully deployed program of self-marketing to further enhance your “almost good enough” application. After all, if the colleges deferring (or waitlisting) you weren’t interested in you, they would have rejected you, right? Let’s take a look at what you can do to improve your chances of getting in.

Your job is twofold. First, you need to establish a distinguishable presence with the admissions office without becoming a pest. Second, you need to reveal more of yourself and your sincere passion to attend your target college. How do you do this? Well, you should start to execute this plan the moment you find out that you have been deferred or waitlisted. Don’t sit around and mope. Take action immediately. If you don’t, who will?

First, you need to find a human being in the admissions office who is willing to communicate with you by email or phone. This may well be the regional rep for your area of the country. Your job is to find out who this person is. Call admissions and ask for that person’s name and email address. If they won’t reveal the email address, ask to be connected to that person by phone. If they won’t do that, get the person’s name (they should be willing to give that out) and write him/her a letter requesting an avenue of contact (again, email is preferable).

Once you have established contact with the admissions rep, then you must keep that person informed on a regular basis about your recent accomplishments (academic, EC, personal life) and deepening passion for that college. Over the course of your marketing campaign, you should make four-to-five contacts with this person. In addition to your emails, you can snail-mail any cool things that involve you from the school newspaper, local newspaper, or anything else where your name appears in print. This is part of marketing your ongoing progress as an outstanding student, athlete, theater arts person, or whatever.

Try to get one more significant recommendation from someone who really knows you well and who may have a unique angle on your intangible qualities (personal integrity, creativity, etc.). That might be a friend, parent, relative, pastor, or supervisor. The important condition is that this person must be able to write extremely convincingly and with great focus on who you are as a person. They should use anecdotes to illustrate your uniqueness and how you are perfectly suited to that college. If this person knows something about the particular college in question, that’s even better.

A real clincher would be if you could win some kind of major honor or award, such as a state- or national-level title or something. This might not be possible, but if you’re a high performer, one never knows.

All this new information, then, can be worked into your regular contacts with admissions. The overall impression you’re trying to project is that here’s a young man or woman sitting on the fence who is showing one heck of a lot of spirit, energy, and intelligence about getting into this school. You’ll stand out from the crowd because the majority of deferred and waitlisted applicants are content to just sit and wait, which often turns out to be the death knell for their chances. Persist in your passion; press for the payoff.

Finally, at some point, you will reach the end of your quest. For those who are deferred, the final word will come in late March or early April. For those on the waitlist, things are less specific. Sometimes, waitlisters can find out where they stand on the list, if the school ranks its list. You may be able at least to find out how many are on the list. Sometimes it’s many hundreds. Obviously, if you choose to hang in there indefinitely on a waitlist, you’re going to have to enroll somewhere else in the meantime. This can happily lead to the loss of an enrollment deposit if your waitlist marketing pays off.

Deferral and Waitlist Summary: Find the key person in admissions, establish contact, and keep in touch regularly with meaningful communications. Granted, this takes a lot of careful and diligent effort. However, when that deferral or waitlist notice arrives, you have to ask yourself one critical question: “How badly do I really want to attend this college?” Your answer to that question should determine your course of action. If you decide to go for it, use the plan I outline above. It should give you your very best shot. Best wishes on your college admissions quest!

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.