What To Do If You’ve Been Deferred, Denied, or Accepted

Helping you navigate the next steps in the college admissions process.

With colleges reporting record numbers of early applicants and the inevitable record-low admit rates that follow, this time of year can be a major rollercoaster. We’re right there with you! Learn more from our college admissions team about next steps based on the decision your child received to set them up for success.  

What to do if you’re….


Congratulations! If you were admitted via an Early Decision program, make sure to follow the next steps closely — they’ll give you a deadline for your deposit. They’ll also expect you to reach out to any other colleges to which you’ve applied to retract your application. This is an important step: not only do your ED colleges require it, but it allows those other schools to admit another student in your place.

If you were admitted Early Action, you have until May 1 to tell the school if you will enroll. However, if you were admitted EA to your top-choice school and are not waiting for financial aid packages to compare, feel free to pay your deposit and retract your other applications now; in many cases, the earlier you deposit, the better your housing options freshman year (the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Florida are two schools whose housing fills notoriously early!).


First, take some time to allow yourself to be disappointed. The college process is long and challenging, and for many students, it can have downs as well as ups. The reality of the landscape is that at highly selective schools, the vast majority of highly qualified applicants are not admitted. The fact that you didn’t get in usually does not mean there was anything “wrong” with your application — rather, it is a reflection of the incredibly competitive nature of the process. Remember that this is not a reflection of your value as a person, and that there are many wonderful colleges out there at which you can thrive.

Once you have had some time to process, use these couple weeks before January to take a final look at your college list, make sure it is comprised of a balanced set of schools that are a fit for you, and make any changes and final tweaks to your Regular Decision applications. 


Deferrals can be the most difficult decisions to process — more waiting with no closure yet can feel torturous, and in our current deferral-heavy landscape, some students virtually live in this gray area from December to March. Deferrals can feel encouraging because it means the admissions committee saw something they liked in you, but they can also be confusing. However, take heart! There are concrete steps you can and should take as a deferred applicant.


Make sure you have a balanced Regular Decision college list. You may get into the school from which you were deferred, but you won’t know until the spring, so it’s essential that you send off a full set of applications to a range of best-fit schools.


Take some time to consider how you feel about the college or university from which you were deferred, especially if it was ED or your top-choice EA school. Is it still your #1 choice? If admitted, would you definitely enroll? If so, it will be important to express this to the admissions office.


Talk to your college/guidance counselor. They are important people in your life who can continue to advocate for you in the college process, and sometimes they can even find out what particular information the college is looking for when they reevaluate your application in the RD round. Keep the lines of communication with your high school open. Make sure to share your news and connect with your counselor before winter break if you can.


Start to prepare updates. Many colleges and universities that defer students welcome updates about what the student has been up to since applying back in the fall. Every college is different in exactly what they want and how they want it — some ask for one letter sent by February 1, others welcome updates whenever they occur, and still, others will accept an additional recommendation letter or other new materials. It’s essential to follow the school’s directions about the deferral process; sending extra materials to a school that specifically asked you not to can hurt your chances.

Once you have learned the school’s processes and preferences for deferred students, you can begin drafting your deferral letter, which should detail any new or exciting updates in your life — your best first semester ever, new test scores, extracurricular developments, new awards or honors — as well as re-express your interest in this school. If they remain your first choice, tell them!

Most schools will want this letter in the new year, typically at the end of January or beginning of February, so take your time.


Visit the college if you haven’t already! Deferrals can happen for a lot of reasons; in some cases, if you are a highly qualified applicant who did not visit the school, they may not be sure of your level of interest. If you have been deferred from one of your targets or likely schools and you didn’t visit, consider planning a visit now to show your interest.

It’s not too late for help! If you were deferred or denied and would like to review your application and strategy with a member of our admissions team, contact us.

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