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The college admissions process is overwhelming. Once you tackle applications and submissions, you begin the waiting game for admission decisions. An acceptance letter is everyone’s goal, but what does it mean to be waitlisted or deferred?

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about navigating college waitlists and deferrals. We’ll start by decoding what each process entails, exploring why colleges use them, and how they impact your admission chances. Whether you’re a student or parent, this guide will help you better understand the admissions process and make informed decisions about your future.

Early admission (Early Action or Early Decision) is a popular option for students who want to increase their chances of getting admitted into their top colleges. However, the competition for early admission is fierce. Many applicants will be deferred or denied admission until the spring. If your application is deferred, it means that the college needs more time to review your application among other candidates in the larger pool. On the other hand, if you are waitlisted, you should consider enrolling in a backup school while also writing a letter of continued interest to the waitlisted school.

Decoding College Deferrals

When a student’s application is deferred, it means that the final decision on admission is delayed until later in the admissions cycle. This often happens due to strong academic performance or incomplete information. Understanding college deferrals helps students manage their expectations and offers them a chance to strengthen their application. 

Deferral in college admissions occurs when students are neither admitted outright nor rejected. Your application moves from the early admission cycle into the regular decision applicant pool. This means your application is still competitive and will be reevaluated and considered during the regular decision timeline for the school. 

During the deferral process most schools allow you to add more information to your application package such as updated test scores and high school transcripts. A deferral serves as a chance for further evaluation so if your grades or test scores have improved since your initial application, you’ll want to make sure the admissions office sees the updated information.

Deferred admissions is only an option for students who apply early decision or early action. If you apply during the regular admission cycle, you cannot receive a deferral letter. Not all early decision or early action schools use the deferral process. Research the admissions policies and outcomes at the schools where you submit applications so you know your options.

Understanding College Waitlists

A college waitlist is a list of applicants who may be offered admission at a later stage. It is for qualified students who couldn’t be admitted immediately due to limited spots. Waitlists help colleges fill open spaces after regular admissions. Being on a waitlist means waiting for a final decision on admission, offering potential opportunities for acceptance.

Colleges use waitlists to manage class size and academic quality, ensuring a full class by the academic year’s start. Admissions officers balance the incoming class profile and account for unexpected enrollment changes using waitlists. This process ensures that admitted students will enroll, maintaining a dynamic and diverse student body. As students commit to specific schools, seats may open up and you may be taken off the waitlist and offered admission. 

A waitlist is not a rejection, but it is also not a guarantee of admission. You may not find out until well into the summer if you’ve moved any closer to an admission letter. 

Waitlisted vs Deferred: The Differences

There is a difference between waitlist and deferral status. While waitlisted students remain in limbo, deferred students become part of the regular applicant pool. Waitlisted applicants might face a longer wait for a final decision. Additionally, deferred applicants still have a chance at admission, which differs from outright rejection. 

When comparing the stage of admissions for waitlisted and deferred students, it’s evident that both face uncertainty but in differing ways. If you are deferred, your application is reconsidered in regular decision rounds, with a chance of a final decision at a later date. If you are waitlisted, you remain in a state of uncertainty without the guarantee of being reconsidered. 

While deferral status requires you to wait longer for a decision, it gives you an opportunity to strengthen your application before the regular decision round. Waitlisted students may need to wait until national college decision day or even later to hear anything.

How Often Are Waitlisted And Deferred Students Accepted?

Waitlist acceptances vary widely by college and year, depending on factors like the college’s yield. In recent years, waitlist acceptance rates have been relatively low, typically around 10% or lower. The number of students admitted from the waitlist fluctuates annually.

After a deferral, the likelihood of admission varies depending on the college and year. Most schools don’t release acceptance data for deferred students. There are estimates that colleges will accept between 5-10% of deferred students during regular decision, but it really depends on the school.  The more selective the school, the less likely a deferral turns into an acceptance.  

Generally, the admission rate for deferred students is higher than for those on the waitlist, offering hope to applicants awaiting an ultimate decision.

Practical Steps After Being Waitlisted or Deferred

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After receiving a waitlist or deferral notification there are several things you can do. Here are some “next steps” to make the best of the situation.

  1. Re-evaluate Your College List – It may be time to research other college options, add some more to your list, and apply regular decision to more choices.Exploring colleges where admission is likely and selecting a school where early acceptance has been received can provide peace of mind. Considering academic, social, and financial aspects of backup schools is crucial for making an informed choice.
  2. Show Continued Interest – It may help to show the admissions department that you really do want to go to their school. Take the time and make an effort to craft a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI). Demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for the prospect of admission and outlining how your contribution could enrich the college community are vital. Articulating how your academic and career aspirations align with the college’s offerings can significantly strengthen your letter. Expressing authentic passion and interest can resonate positively with admissions officers.
  3. Improve Your Application Material – Update your resume with any new achievements or accomplishments. Submit new test scores, if you’ve retaken the SAT or ACT and done better, and send in your transcript from fall grades of your senior year.
  4. Manage Stress and Disappointment & Focus on Your Future Goals – While this may not be the outcome you wanted, it is not the end of the road.  Remember that these decisions made by admissions officers are not personal; college is a business! The goal is to love the school that loves you back. Explore other options that may open up new possibilities. Use this time to concentrate on academic and extracurricular accomplishments, as well as personal development. Remember to maintain a positive mindset and keep your long-term goals in sight.

In conclusion, navigating college admissions waitlists and deferrals can be a challenging and uncertain process. Understanding the differences between waitlists and deferrals is crucial, as well as knowing the statistics and implications for your admission chances. It’s important to take practical steps after being waitlisted or deferred, such as assessing your next steps and choosing a backup school.

Additionally, you can boost your application by improving your materials and creating a strong letter of continued interest. Lastly, it’s essential to manage the emotional impact of waitlisting or deferral by staying motivated and focused on your future goals. Remember, you will find your college fit as long as you are true to yourself and put in the hard work.