The Difference Between a Deferral and a Rejection

By: Caroline Koppelman

Every year we work with students who come to us immediately after they’ve been deferred early decision and assume that it is effectively a rejection. This is a myth that needs to be debunked. A deferral is only a rejection if you treat it that way.

Colleges are businesses and should be viewed as such. They aren’t altruistic and they certainly don’t care about your feelings. Top colleges routinely reject over 90% of applicants without blinking an eye. They can and will reject you if they don’t want you. 

A deferral is your chance to prove yourself even more. If the college didn’t want you, they would have rejected you. Don’t read into it too much because you’ll drive yourself crazy. A deferral is not a rejection but a second chance. For that reason, we love deferrals. Colleges know that you might not have had everything figured out your freshman or sophomore year so sometimes they want to see how you further develop over the course of your senior year. 

This means your first semester grades really, really count. Colleges want to see that steady arc of improvement and you need to prove that you didn’t start to slack off. If you haven’t been taking your classes as seriously as you know you need to, now is the time focus up.

We recommend that our seniors send a deferral package to the admission office by January. Remember that just sending this package doesn’t make you unique in any way. So you really need to stand out. As always, don’t try to stand out for the wrong reasons. 

The package needs to be positive and enthusiastic and tell a story. Make sure you hit the following points: 

  • A letter explaining why the school you got deferred from is still your #1 choice 
  • Your first semester grades 
  • Any additional standardized tests you might have taken that show improvement 
  • An additional letter of recommendation 
  • Any additional information with accomplishments 

As with any writing, you submit to a college, you want to make sure the deferral letter in the package tells a story about continued improvement. We encourage you to get as creative as possible because you need to stand out. Students who get deferred generally have slightly higher admission rates than those who just apply regular decision, so you should put a good amount of effort into this package. 

At the end of the day, a deferral may feel like a gray zone because it’s neither an acceptance nor a rejection. Deferrals are hard to turn into acceptances, but it can be done. If you follow the steps outlined above and work hard, getting into your top choice school is still very much achievable.