With US colleges and universities having released their early application admission results, a lot of applicants have either been admitted (happy Christmas), rejected (sad Christmas), or deferred (??? Christmas). I consulted with a student with a stellar academic record who did an early application to Princeton. She received a deferral and is now in limbo. She is pretty down about it. She's somehow convinced herself that she won't be getting in. Her question was: Now what?
What is a deferral anyway? When you apply early (Early Action, Early Decision, etc.) to a US college, you can either be admitted, rejected or deferred. When you are deferred, all it means is that the admissions office at the college you applied to cannot, at this early point, make a definitive yes or no regarding your application. Your application will be reconsidered with the rest of the applicants in the Regular Decision round. Your admission result will be released in late March along with everyone else's.
What should I do if I am deferred? My best advice is for you to update your application. Send in your first semester grades from senior year. Ideally, they will show a steady upward trend. Send in new SAT scores if they have improved markedly. Don't forget extracurricular activities...new projects undertaken, new awards received, etc. Continue to show genuine interest in the college you were deferred from. You might also want to look more deeply into the other schools in your list. Prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
What you should NOT do is to deluge the admissions office with more letters of recommendation (unless the school specifically asks for them) or a restatement of things you already mentioned in your early decision application. Yes, we know you are the president of the student council at your school....but what have you done lately? Also, do NOT assume that a deferral is essentially a rejection. It isn't. I know a student who was deferred in 2013 from Harvard when he applied early but was admitted in the Regular Decision round.
Why do schools defer? Can't they just make a decision right there? If I'm ultimately rejected in the Regular Decision round, I'd rather know about it now. I agree. It is always better to know sooner rather than later. That said, schools do defer early applicants to the regular decision round. We just have to live with it.
Schools defer for a lot of reasons. Some schools defer very few students. They would very much just rather give a yes or no right away. Some schools prefer to defer and put off the potential bad news. A large well regarded state university deferred a lot of its early candidates this year because they oversubscribed their freshman class last year by hundreds of students and they want to make sure it doesn't happen again.
But for most schools, they outright reject early applicants who are clearly not competitive in the application pool. For schools like Penn or Cornell, these tend to be the students with a B+ to A-average, an IB predicted score in the mid to high 30s and an SAT score hundreds of points below the mean of typically admitted students,. They will also accept those who are clearly admissible and those with big admission "hooks", i.e. athletes, children of famous, wealthy (generous and potentially generous) alumni. It the ones in the middle that are typically deferred.
In any case, I think being deferred has a lot going for it. It makes the student sit back and wonder if they *really* want to to go the school that deferred them. Perhaps, the student should take the time and sit back and think about the other schools on their list or to crystallize why exactly they want to attend the school that deferred them to begin with. If the deferrals make students think more clearly about their college choices, then the deferral might be the best thing that never happened to them.