If you’ve received a rejection or deferral letter from your EA/ED schools, there’s a good chance you’re a little bummed. I get it; it’s tough news. 

So what should you do if you’ve been deferred? Here’s a step-by-step guide to make sure you’re doing the most you possibly can. 

First things first.

1.) Take a breath.

It’s just one of the many schools you’ve applied to. Right? 

WAIT: DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH LIKELY SCHOOLS ON YOUR LIST?

If not, or you’re not sure, read the section below. If you’re sure you have 2-3 likelies (schools you can get into and LOVE), skip it.

What to Do If You’re Worried You Don’t Have Enough Likely Schools

Fast forward six months: Can you imagine a situation where you don’t get in (gulp) anywhere?

If so, pause reading this right now and write an email to your counselor with a list of all the schools you’re definitely applying to with the email subject, “Do you think this is a balanced school list?” To make it even easier, split them into these categories: 

If you’re worried you may not get accepted anywhere, especially if you thought you had a good shot at your Early Action or Decision college and are concerned that you maybe overestimated your chances, ask your counselor if they can please recommend a few more likely schools. (Do this now.) 

Don’t have access to a counselor? Check out this guide to creating a balanced college list and pay special attention to the part on how to Explore Colleges on CollegeXpress (it’s in Part 2, Step 1). There I describe a quick way to find other potential likely schools to add to your list.

Having said that, if you’re pretty sure you have applied to enough likely schools, keep reading. 

What to do when you’ve been deferred

It’s true that some students each year are deferred from their first choice, then later admitted. But this tends to be the exception rather than the rule, as many students are NOT accepted after being deferred. 

You know what, though? Many of those students who didn’t end up at their first choice school end up at another school that they end up loving and then go on to live happy and fulfilling lives. (Example: Me! I was devastated when I was rejected by my first choice. Then I ended up at Northwestern and it was an amazing fit. And my life is super fun.)

But if you were deferred (or rejected) in the EA/ED round, does this mean you should totally throw out all your essays and rethink your whole approach? Please don’t do that, or at least not yet. Why?

Remember that your EA/ED school was likely one of your top choices, and was also likely a pretty competitive college in the first place. So a deferral is NOT a reason (on its own) to try and re-do everything. There are approx 237 (i.e. too many to list) possible reasons your application was deferred, and your essays are just one part of a large constellation of factors a school is considering–many of which have less to do with you and more to do with their institutional priorities.

Okay, so rather than throw the baby of your application out with the bathwater of your deferral (what a weird sentence this is), instead… 

Ask yourself: Is my application doing its job? 

What’s the job of your college application, you ask? To demonstrate a wide range of your skills, qualities, interests and values.

And wouldn’t it be great if you had a tool for measuring how much your application is doing this? We’ve got one.

It’s called the Values Scan and you can find it here

Most students feel (more) at ease after doing that. Try it and see.

But let’s say you’ve done that and are still feeling anxious. 

What can you do? 

2.) Focus on what you can control.

You know the Serenity Prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Right now…

  • Things you cannot change = already submitted apps (for the most part–see #3 below for more)

  • Things you can change = NOT already submitted apps (schools you’re still working on) + schools you haven’t even thought about applying to yet (see box above) + doing your best on final exams so your grades stay awesome. 

In other words: Move on.

How? First, make sure you have enough likelies, then turn your attention to your remaining schools and ensure you have AWESOME supplemental essays written for any applications you have yet to submit.

BUT WAIT, ETHAN, I THINK I HAVE TO DO SOME THINGS TO MAKE SURE I’M STILL BEING CONSIDERED BY THE SCHOOL THAT DEFERRED ME. 

Yes, yes, yes, I’m getting to that…

3.) Follow the school’s instructions CLOSELY.

Many schools, in their deferral letter or email, will state exactly what they want from you. If they don’t state it in their deferral email, check out their website, sometimes found by Googling the school’s name + “deferral” can help you find a page like the first link on this page. Note: Be sure that it’s a link from the school’s official admissions website.

Here’s an example of things schools sometimes request or expect:

  • Fill out the defer response form as soon as you can. 

  • If they ask you to state if you’re still interested in being considered for RD admissions, let them know that you are as soon as you can. 

  • Remind your counselor to send your mid-year report and grades (if they sent your transcripts).

  • Send any updated test scores (SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, TOEFL etc.), if available.

If the school states that they do NOT want any additional information such as recommendations or letters, don’t send them. Why? An inability to follow instructions could jeopardize your application. For example, schools like Michigan request that students do NOT submit any additional material. That’s pretty clear, right?

4.) Consider sending a letter of continued interest (LOCI) after January 1st, stating your intentions.

If the school does not strictly prohibit sending additional information (and be sure to double check this), consider sending them a letter of continued interest.

This letter should a) reaffirm that their school is your top choice, if true (usually for ED schools), and b) share any significant updated information such as new grades, updates in extracurricular involvement/achievements, or awards you’ve received. 

Here’s a separate guide on how to write a letter of continued interest (plus a nice example letter).

If you’ve corresponded with your regional rep or a counselor in the admission office, send your email to them and CC the main admissions office email address. Thank them for their time and reviewing your applications, state your continued interest in the school, and move on. 

Oh, and if you haven’t been opening all the emails the college has been sending you, start now! Many colleges track this and take it as a sign of your interest and dedication.

More on demonstrated interest here.

Okay, that’s it!

Keep Calm and Rock On.