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Navigating Deferrals in 2021

For the past ten months, we have all been putting plans, trips, and pursuits aside due to the pandemic. We have been "deferring" our lives, so to speak—hoping everything will be clearer in that next turn.

In essence, colleges have been using this same approach for decades. Almost every college in the country with an Early Decision or Early Action program defers a sizable portion of its applicant pool to the Regular Decision round every year in the hopes of admitting some of these students down the road. The odds of getting admitted in Regular Decision after being deferred is about the same (sometimes a little higher and sometimes a little lower) as it is for a student applying directly through Regular Decision.

But this year feels different.

We knew this to be true the moment Harvard University announced last month that it deferred approximately 80% of its Restrictive Early Action pool. Harvard is one of the most selective colleges in the country. I can only imagine how this will play out for them in Regular Decision. But most colleges don’t have single degree acceptance rates like Harvard and they probably haven’t deferred such a large percentage of their pool either.

So how does one navigate the deferral process in 2021?

First, review your decision letter.

Yep, the one you don’t want to look out right now. It’s important to do this because there is usually some piece of valuable information in it about the applicant pool or what you can submit in support of your candidacy. And if the decision letter is pretty basic (many colleges have stunningly sterile decision letters—that’s a blog post in itself!), it might have an FAQ link that provides additional information like what percentage of deferred students get admitted in Regular Decision. Penn offered this nugget of information in its FAQ this year! And if a college doesn’t provide any direction in its communication, then the student should contact the college’s admissions office and demand some answers. Yep, colleges have to be honest here, just as they demand you to be in this process. 


Free Download: The Top 10 Things to Know If You Were Deferred



Second, consider writing a letter of continued interest (LOCI) if the college permits it.

Just because you write an LOCI doesn’t mean you are going to get admitted in Regular Decision. But I can tell you that no applicant I ever worked with as an admissions officer or college counselor ever got admitted after being deferred without one. I have written a few blogs about how to craft an LOCI after being deferred so check those out.

READ MORE: How to Follow Up with That College That Deferred You

Third, ask your college counselor when your first semester grades from senior year will be sent to the college.

Most high schools finalize first semester grades in January or early February. Colleges will be waiting anxiously to get these grades if you are competitive in the Regular Decision round. I always say that senior year grades really matter. For a deferred student, they are a big part of the second review of your application. 

Finally, resist the urge to send in “everything but the bagel.”

More is not better when it comes to college admissions. In fact, sending in extra letters of recommendation, resumes, research papers, and other pieces rarely make a difference. Strong grades and one powerful LOCI will make the biggest difference. 

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is to not put off what we can do right now. I encourage students to follow up with an LOCI before the end of January if they are still interested in the college that deferred them. And if you need more information about your deferral, make sure to follow up with the college. These colleges owe us that much. Knowing the odds in Regular Decision can allow students to pivot sooner and invest in the other colleges on their list. 

Getting deferred is so 2020. Being forthright is what 2021 is all about.