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Students that have been deferred or waitlisted from their top choice school face a big dilemma. Should they just sit tight or is there anything they can do to better their chances of getting accepted?
Understanding the Difference Between Deferred and Waitlisted
Being deferred from a college is not the same as being placed on the waitlist. Most college deferrals occur when a student has applied early action (EA) or early decision (ED) to a college. When a college defers an applicant, it means their application has been changed to a regular decision (RD) application and will be re-considered during the normal admissions review. If the original application was a binding ED, it no longer is and the student can choose to go to another school even if accepted in the regular process.
Waitlisted means that the applicant has not been accepted but could still be considered if enough students that were accepted choose not to attend the college.
Even though being waitlisted sounds better than being rejected, odds of getting off a waitlist are not in a student's favor. Christine K. VanDeVelde, journalist and coauthor of the book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, explains, “Waitlists were much smaller 15-20 years ago before the common application. Colleges need to meet their enrollment numbers. With more students sending in applications, it is harder for schools to predict how many students will accept their offer so waitlists tend to be larger.”
Re-Evaluate if the School Is the Right School
Not being accepted to a first choice college can be upsetting. But before doing anything else, students that have been deferred or waitlisted should re-evaluate and determine whether the school is still their first choice.
Several months will have passed since a student has sent in their application for consideration. In that time, some things may have changed, and it is possible a student may not be as confident that their original first choice school is still the right choice. For some students, a deferral or waitlist turns out to be good thing and an opportunity to find another school that is a better fit.
What Can Students Do if They Have Been Waitlisted?
Students are not usually placed on a waitlist but told that they can choose to be placed on the waitlist. VanDeVelde explains, “Students need to respond by submitting a form or emailing the college by a set date. If you don't, you will not be placed on the waitlist.”
The waitlist letter will also let students know what, if any, additional information they will need to submit to the school, such as sending in recent grades or additional letters of recommendation. VanDelde cautions, “Colleges usually give clear directions. It's in the student's best interest to follow them.”
Students that have been waitlisted may not find out until August if they have been accepted, so they do need to make a deposit at another college even if the school they have been waitlisted at remains their first choice.
What Can Students Do if They Have Been Deferred?
If a student has been deferred and is 100% confident he still wants to attend the school, there are things he can do to improve his chances.
Call the Admissions Office
VanDeVelde says, “A student, NOT a parent, can call or email the admissions office to ask for feedback on why the student wad deferred. Maybe they are concerned about a certain grade and want to see if the student improves over the semester.” VanDeVelde advises students to advocate for themselves in a clear and articulate manner. Says VanDeVelde, “This is not about bringing pressure. It is about whether the school has room for the student.”
Send Additional Information
Make sure updated grades/transcripts have been sent in a timely manner. Beyond recent grades, students can also update the school on their recent accomplishments, honors, etc. Students can email this information to admissions along with a letter reiterating their interest and commitment to attending the school.
Students may consider sending additional recommendations. Brittany Maschal, a private college counselor, says, “An extra letter from a teacher, coach or someone else close to the student who can speak to what they have done to contribute to the university may be helpful.” Do not send recommendations from successful or famous alumni of the school unless the person truly knows the student. Maschal explains, “Many students ask if these types of letters are helpful and the answer is no. A big name vouching for you generally will not help as a stand-alone factor.”
Ask Guidance Office for Assistance
An admissions office may provide additional details as to why a student was deferred to a school counselor. A school counselor can also advocate on a student's behalf.
Request an Interview
Some schools offer applicant interviews on or off campus with alumni or admissions representatives.
Visit the College
If time permits, consider visiting or re-visiting the campus. Sit in on a class, stay overnight, and take advantage of any admissions events/programming you may not have during the initial process.
Consider Re-Taking Standardized Test or Taking Additional Tests
As this can be time consuming, it is probably only worthwhile if the school has directly expressed concern over the test scores.
Keep Grades Up and Continue With Activities
Many students get second semester senioritis. Their grades might fall or they may slack off on extracurricular activities-especially if they are feeling dejected about not getting an immediate acceptance from a first choice school. But these senior year grades can be a determining factor for admission.
Guest columnist Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three. She primarily writes about parenting, family life and teen issues. Her work has appeared in many online and print publications including Teen Life, Your Teen, Scary Mommy, SheKnows and Grown and Flown.