What to Do if Deferred or Waitlisted

Quick Links: Waitlisted | Deferred | What to Do | FAQ's

Understanding the Terms and What's Next

Navigating the college application process can be overwhelming, especially when faced with terms like “deferred” and “waitlisted.” If this is you, don’t fret! We’ve designed this page to guide you through these scenarios and to help you understand your best options and offer next steps that keep your journey moving full-speed ahead.  

Waitlisted definition:

  • The college sees potential in your application, but has more qualified candidates than available seats.
  • You may be offered enrollment if spots become available.

Early decision definition:

Early decision is a binding application process where students apply to their top choice college and recieve and admission decision early, typically in December. If accepted, students must commit to attending and withdraw all other applications. 


What Does It Mean to Be “Waitlisted?”

Being waitlisted is neither an acceptance nor a rejection. It indicates that the student meets the admission criteria, but the acceptance offer is on hold due to space availability. If spaces in the incoming class become available, students on the waitlist may be offered admission, usually after May 1st. 

Why do Colleges Waitlist Students?

Colleges may waitlist students as a precautionary measure to ensure they fill their classes to capacity. Essentially, if admitted students decline their offers, waitlisted students may be granted admission, making being waitlisted better than being denied admission. 

Can You Get Waitlisted During Early Decision?

Essentially, no. Early decisions will only result in acceptance, rejection, or deferral. However, if you are deferred during the early decision process your application may be waitlisted during the regular decision period.  

Deferred definition:

  • The college needs more time to review your application in the regular decision applicant pool.
  • You have an extended opportunity to enhance your application while it's under further review. 

Early action definition:

Early action allows students to apply to a college or university earlier than the regular application deadline. Students accepted under early action are not obligated to attend and have until May 1st to decide. 

What Does Being Deferred Mean?

Receiving a deferral letter means that the college has postponed the admission decision and will review the application again during the regular admission period. It implies potential in the applicant but necessitates further review. 

Can You Get Deferred During Early Action?

Yes, a deferral is possible from early action. It usually happens when the admission committee sees potential but wishes to review more applications before deciding. 

Deferred vs. Waitlisted - What’s the Difference?

While both deferred and waitlisted statuses signify a delay in the admission decision, they occur at different stages and under different circumstances. A deferral happens during early action or early decision and is usually followed by a reassessment of the application amongst the regular admissions pool. In contrast, being waitlisted occurs during the regular admission process when the institution has already filled its available slots but might consider additional students if space becomes available. 

Is It Better to be Deferred or Waitlisted?

Generally, being deferred can be seen as more promising than being waitlisted. A deferral allows for a second review of your application, often providing an opportunity to submit additional materials or updated information. A waitlist, on the other hand, depends on whether admitted students decline their offers and space becomes available in the incoming class. 

Do Deferred or Waitlisted Students Get Accepted?

There is always a possibility for deferred or waitlisted students to get accepted; however, acceptance rates vary widely between colleges and from year to year. Some colleges do provide statistics on acceptance rates for deferred and waitlisted students, making it crucial for prospective students to research and be informed. 

What To Do if You’re Waitlisted or Deferred?

If you find yourself waitlisted or deferred, understanding your situation and taking timely, effective steps can significantly enhance your chances of eventual admission. It's crucial to evaluate your situation and formulate a proactive strategy by following the guidance below. 

Consider Your Next Steps 

Double-check and remain aware of your deadlines and timeframes, ; you may have to make some quick decisions. Inform your strategy with data — knowing what percentage of deferred students are accepted at a given school can help shape your expectations and guide your actions. 

Decide on a Backup School

Having a backup is especially crucial for waitlisted students due to the uncertainty and potentially tight timelines involved. This approach ensures you have options, regardless of the final decision of your preferred institution. 

Improve Your Application

Consider enhancing your application by participating in additional extracurricular activities, improving your GPA, or even choosing to retake the ACT to boost your scores

Write a Letter of Continued Interest

Expressing your sustained interest in a college through a letter can be a powerful way to reinforce your commitment and enthusiasm for joining their community, thereby potentially improving your chances of admission. 

Keep a Pulse on Your Application Status

Maintaining communication with the admission offices of the colleges where you’ve been waitlisted or deferred is essential. Make sure colleges are sending their communications to the correct email address. Consider setting up a dedicated email account (not through your high school for example, since that address may not be available after graduation) to use for your college applications. Regular, respectful updates can help you stay informed and demonstrate your ongoing interest.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Remember, direct communication with specific colleges is always encouraged for the most precise and current information. 

Yes, it’s recommended to apply to other colleges as being waitlisted or deferred does not guarantee admission, and it's crucial to have alternative options.

Adhere to the college’s instructions, usually provided in the notification letter or email. Typically, you might need to confirm whether you wish to stay on the waitlist or be considered after a deferral. 

While a visit can express interest, it is imperative to respect any guidelines or preferences the college expresses regarding visits from waitlisted or deferred students. 

Policies vary; some colleges may rank waitlisted students, while others review them based on institutional needs and the composition of the admitted class as spaces become available. 

Generally, colleges do not encourage appeals for waitlisted or deferred applications, as these statuses already indicate a possibility of future acceptance. However, policies can vary, and applicants should refer to the specific college's policies.

Typically, there isn’t a limit, but it’s essential to be realistic and consider the likelihood of admission from the waitlist, the financial implications, and your genuine interest in each college. 

More Resources for College Applications

Navigating through being deferred or waitlisted can be challenging, but understanding your options and taking proactive steps can significantly impact your college journey. View more resources on applying to college