Sample Responses to a College Deferral Letter

A Well-Crafted Letter Can Improve Your College Admission Chances

Student Typing
Student Typing. Nicole Abalde / Flickr

If you applied to college through an Early Action or Early Decision option, you may find that you've been neither accepted nor rejected, but deferred. Many applicants despair when their application for early admission ends up in this frustrating limbo for it feels much like a rejection. It is not, and you can take steps to improve your chances of getting admitted with the regular admission pool. One easy step is to write the college a response to your deferral letter.

Key Takeaways: Responding to a College Deferral

  • If you have new information that could strengthen your application, share it with the admissions folks. This can include improved test scores, a new award, or a new leadership position.
  • Be positive: reaffirm your interest in the school, and don't let your anger and frustration at being deferred darken your letter. Be careful not to suggest the admissions folks made a mistake.
  • As with all written parts of your applications, pay careful attention to grammar, punctuation, and style. Colleges want to admit students who write well.

Always remember that if the college did not think you had the qualifications necessary to be admitted, you would have been rejected, not deferred. Essentially, the school is telling you that you have what it takes to get in, but they want to compare you to the full applicant pool. You simply didn't stand out quite enough to be admitted with the early applicant pool. By writing to a college after being deferred, you have the opportunity to both reaffirm your interest in the school and present any new information that might strengthen your application.

So, don't panic if you received a letter of deferral after applying to college through early decision or early action. You're still in the game. First, read through these 7 tips on what to do if deferred. Then, if you think you have meaningful new information to share with the college that has deferred your admission, write them a letter. Sometimes you can write a simple letter of continued interest even if you don't have new information to share, although some schools explicitly state that such letters are not necessary, and in some cases, not welcome (admissions offices are extremely busy in the winter).

Sample Letter from a Deferred Student

Below is a sample letter that would be appropriate if deferred. Caitlin has a significant new honor to report to her first choice college, so she certainly should make the school aware of the update to her application. Note that her letter is polite and concise. She doesn't express her frustration or anger; she doesn't try to convince the school that they've made a mistake; instead, she reaffirms her interest in the school, presents the new information, and thanks the admissions officer.

Dear Mr. Carlos,
I am writing to inform you of an addition to my University of Georgia application. Although my admission for Early Action has been deferred, I am still very interested in UGA and would very much like to be admitted, and therefore I wish to keep you up to date on my activities and achievements.
Earlier this month I participated in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology in New York City. My high school team was awarded a $10,000 scholarship for our research on graph theory. The judges consisted of a panel of scientists and mathematicians led by former astronaut Dr. Thomas Jones; the awards were presented at a ceremony on Dec. 7. Over two thousand students entered this competition, and I was extremely honored to be recognized alongside the other winners. More information on this competition can be found through the Siemens Foundation web site:
Thank you for your continued consideration of my application.
Caitlin Anystudent

Discussion of Caitlin's Letter

Caitlin's letter is simple and to the point. Given how busy the admissions office will be between December and March, short is important. It would reflect poor judgment if she were to write a lengthy letter to present a single piece of information.

That said, Caitlin could strengthen her letter slightly with a few tweaks to her opening paragraph. Currently she states that she is "still very interested in UGA and would very much like to be admitted." Since she applied Early Action, we can assume that UGA was among Caitlin's top choice schools. If so, she should state this. Also, it doesn't hurt to briefly state why UGA is a top choice school. As an example, her opening paragraph could state something like this: "Although my admission for Early Action has been deferred, UGA remains my top-choice university. I love the energy and spirit of the campus, and I was truly impressed by my visit to a sociology class last spring. I am writing to keep you up to date on my activities and achievements."

A Second Sample Letter

Dear Mr. Birney,
Last week I learned that my application for early decision at Johns Hopkins was deferred. As you can imagine, this news was disappointing to me—Johns Hopkins remains the university I'm most excited about attending. I visited a lot of schools during my college search, and Johns Hopkins's program in International Studies appeared to be a perfect match for my interests and aspirations, and I loved the energy of the Homewood Campus.
I want to thank you and your colleagues for the time you put into considering my application. After I applied for early decision, I received a couple more pieces of information that I hope will strengthen my application. First, I retook the SAT in November and my combined score went from 1330 to 1470. The College Board will be sending you an official score report soon. Also, I was recently elected to be the Captain of our school Ski Team, a group of 28 students who compete in regional competitions. As Captain, I will have a central role in the team's scheduling, publicity and fund raising. I have asked the team's coach to send you a supplemental letter of recommendation that will address my role within the Ski Team.
Many thanks for your consideration,
Laura Anystudent

Discussion of Laura's Letter

Laura has good reason to write to Johns Hopkins University. The 110 point improvement on her SAT scores is significant. If you look at this graph of GPA-SAT-ACT data for admission to Hopkins, you'll see that Laura's original 1330 was on the lower end of the accepted student range. Her new score of 1470 is nicely in the middle of the range. Laura's election as Captain of Ski Team may not be a game-changer on the admissions front, but it does show more evidence of her leadership skills. Especially if her application was originally light on leadership experiences, this new position will be significant. Finally, Laura's decision to have a supplemental letter of recommendation sent to Hopkins is a good choice, particularly if her coach can speak to abilities that Laura's other recommenders did not.

Don't Make the Mistakes in This Letter

The letter below illustrates what you should not do. Brian asks to have his application reconsidered, but he does not present any significant new information for reconsidering the decision. The increase in his GPA from a 3.3 to a 3.35 is fairly trivial. His newspaper has been nominated for an award, but it has not won the award. Moreover, Brian writes as if he has been rejected, not deferred. The university will look at his application again with the regular pool of applicants.

The biggest problem with the letter below, however, is that Brian comes across as a whiner, an egotist, and an ungenerous person. He clearly thinks very highly of himself, placing himself above his friend and making much ado about a modest 3.3 GPA. Does Brian really sound like the type of person the admissions officers will want to invite to join their campus community? To make matters worse, the third paragraph in Brian's letter essentially accuses the admissions officers of making a mistake in admitting his friend and deferring him. The goal of Brian's letter is to strengthen his chances of getting into college, but questioning the competence of the admissions folks works counter to that goal.

To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing in regards to my deferral for admission to Syracuse University for the fall semester. I received a letter earlier this week informing me that my admission had been deferred. I would like to urge you to reconsider me for admission.
As you know from my previously submitted admissions materials, I am a very strong student with an outstanding academic record. Since I submitted my high school transcript in November, I have received another set of mid-year grades, and my GPA has gone up from a 3.3 to 3.35. In addition, the school newspaper, of which I am assistant editor, has been nominated for a regional award.
Frankly, I am somewhat concerned about the status of my admission. I have a friend at a nearby high school who has been admitted to Syracuse through early admissions, yet I know that he has a somewhat lower GPA than mine and has not been involved in as many extracurricular activities. Although he is a good student, and I certainly do not hold anything against him, I am confused about why he would be admitted while I have not been. Frankly, I think that I am a far stronger applicant.
I would very much appreciate it if you could take another look at my application, and reconsider my admissions status. I believe I am an excellent student and would have much to contribute to your university.
Brian Anystudent

A Final Word on Responding to a Deferral 

As with any communication with a college, you'll want to pay careful attention tone, grammar, punctuation, and style. A sloppily-written letter is going to work against you, not strengthen your application.

Finally, keep in mind that writing a letter when deferred is optional, and at many schools it won't improve your chances of being admitted. You should definitely write if you have compelling new information to present (don't write if your SAT score went up just 10 points—you don't want to look like you're grasping). And if the college doesn't say not to write a letter of continued interest, it can be worthwhile to do so.