How to Handle College Deferrals, Waitlists, and Rejections

Learn the Steps You Can Take When Your Application Plans Go Awry

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You worked hard in high school to earn high grades. You put in the time to research and visit colleges. You studied for and did well on important standardized tests. And you carefully completed and submitted all of your college applications.

Unfortunately, all of that effort doesn’t guarantee an acceptance letter, especially if you’re applying to some of the country’s most selective colleges. Realize, however, that you can take steps to improve your admission chances even if your application has been deferred, waitlisted, and in some cases, rejected.

You’ve Been Deferred. What Now?

Applying to college through an Early Action or Early Decision option is definitely a good idea if you know what school you want to attend, for your chances of admission are likely to be significantly higher than if you apply through regular admission.

Students who apply early receive one of three possible outcomes: an acceptance, a rejection, or a deferral. A deferral indicates that the admissions folks thought your application was competitive for their school, but not strong enough to receive an early acceptance. As a result, the college is deferring your application so that they can compare you with the regular applicant pool.

This limbo can be frustrating, but it isn’t time to despair. Plenty of deferred students do, in fact, get admitted with the regular applicant pool, and there are several steps you can take when deferred to maximize your chances of being admitted. In most cases, it can be to your advantage to write a letter to the college to reaffirm your interest in the school and present any new information that strengthens your application. 

How to Deal With College Waitlists

Being placed on a waitlist can be even more frustrating than a deferral. Your first step is to learn what it means to be on a waitlist. You've essentially become a back-up for the college in case it misses its enrollment targets. It's not an enviable position to be in: typically you won't learn that you've gotten off of a waitlist until after May 1st, the day high school seniors make their final college decisions. 

As with college deferrals, there are steps you can take to help you get off a waitlist. The first, of course, is to accept a place on the waitlist. This is certainly something you should do if you are still interested in attending the school that waitlisted you. 

Next, unless the college tells you not to, you should write a letter of continued interest. A good letter of continued interest should be positive and polite, restate your enthusiasm for the college, and, if applicable, present any new information that could strengthen your application.

Keep in mind that you are most likely going to need to make your decision about other colleges before you learn whether or not you've gotten off a waitlist. To be safe, you should move forward as if you've been rejected by schools that waitlisted you. Unfortunately, this means that should you get off a waitlist, you may need to forfeit your admissions deposit at another college.

Can You Appeal a College Rejection?

Whereas a deferral or waitlist places you in admissions limbo, a college rejection letter is typically an unambiguous conclusion to the application process. That said, at some schools in some situations, you can appeal a rejection decision.

Be sure to find out whether or not the college allows appeals—some schools have explicit policies stating that an admissions decision is final and appeals are not welcome. There are, however, some situations that warrant an appeal. This can include a clerical error on part of the college or your high school, or a major piece of new information that strengthens your application.

If you conclude that you are in a situation where an appeal makes sense, you'll want to employ strategies to make your appeal effective. Part of the process, of course, will involve writing an appeal letter to the college that politely outlines the justification for your appeal.

Be Realistic About Your Chances

In all of the situations above, it's important to keep your admissions chances in perspective. You should always have a plan in place should you not be admitted.

If deferred, the good news is that you weren't rejected. That said, your admissions chances are similar to the rest of the applicant pool, and highly selective schools send out far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. 

If you've been waitlisted, you are more likely to stay on the waitlist than to be admitted. You should move forward as if you've been rejected: visit the schools that have accepted you and choose to attend the one that is the best match for your personality, interests, and professional goals.

Finally, if you've been rejected, you have nothing to lose by appealing, but it is certainly a Hail Mary effort. Like a student who has been waitlisted, you should move forward as if the rejection is final. If you get good news, great, but don't plan on your appeal being successful.

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Your Citation
Grove, Allen. "How to Handle College Deferrals, Waitlists, and Rejections." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Grove, Allen. (2020, August 27). How to Handle College Deferrals, Waitlists, and Rejections. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "How to Handle College Deferrals, Waitlists, and Rejections." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).