Tips on how to deal with a college deferral
While some lucky Daniel Island students already have college acceptances bagged in the Christmas stocking, others are still applying and waiting on pins and needles! Applying early in the fall of senior year has its advantages and disadvantages. As the entire process has moved to Oct. 1, when financial aid applications can be filed with the federal government or College Board, more students are also trying to apply early though they don’t have well-shaped applications. I say “applications” because these, not students, go to college.
Colleges can make one of three decisions: acceptance, denial, or deferral. Acceptances are well received by students. Then there are denials, and as bad as denials are, they are definite. A door closes, and students can move on and apply elsewhere. Deferrals, on the other hand, keep doors open, and can confuse, worry and even discourage students and parents.
Meet Lauren (not her real name), who received a deferral from early action acceptance from her top college. Lauren worked hard during her high school years, took several AP classes, and earned Bs and a few As. Her ACT scores are in the mid-twenties, and her efforts outside the classroom show that she got involved in the regular slate of activities.
Since tenth grade Lauren received invitations to apply to many colleges. Colleges heavily target the Daniel Island-like zip codes because of the demographics and wealth indicators. Lauren attended several college fairs where the admission representatives said that she would be an excellent candidate for their college. She applied early action by Nov. 1 to her favorite college. She is surprised that she got deferred.
What does that mean? Although deferred students like Lauren may experience even more stress and anxiety than denied students, they can still get accepted. They can help themselves by learning to gain more control over this process, especially during the long waiting period between deferral and acceptance. Basically, they need to know how to handle themselves. It’s not over until it’s over. Lauren needs to advocate for herself. This may be the first time when Lauren needs to look after her best interest, while she’s still in senior year of high school. Notice I didn’t say her parents should advocate. Though she may not know it, she is still in the driver seat.
Let us take a quick look at the invisible forces that drive college admissions. Colleges must consider which students will best provide the academic and standardized test scores that will make them look selective among their peers. No college wants to be known as “easy to get into.” Admission Committees will often encourage students to re-take their SATs or ACTs and reassure students that they will “super-score” them, which means they will use the best results from multiple tests.
Immediately, Lauren decides to re-take her ACT, while she is carrying a load of classes in AP Calculus, AP Human Geography, AP European History. She’s already shopped for the next date to re-take the ACT in the hope that it will enhance her admission chances. She has only a few more weeks to prepare because the next possible day is Feb. 8 and she must register by Jan. 10.
I would encourage Lauren to make sure that she understands why she was deferred. Although students hesitate to call admissions offices, they need to make the contact. They need to find out who their representative is for their area and call or write directly. Let them know that they are interested in that college and would like to do everything possible to remedy the situation.
The problem may be as simple as Lauren sending in updated grades to enable the college to render a decision. Many colleges allow students to self-report their grades and test scores, but students do need to send in official transcripts. Did the student ask their guidance counselor to send the most important piece of the application, the academic records? Guidance counselors can’t read minds. If the high school uses the Naviance program, has the student listed the college on her portal?
Some students have dual enrollment where they take classes at their high school and community college. Students need to order transcripts from the community college. Many colleges have developed their own application tracker, and students need to check it to view what’s missing from their application. Many deferrals are directly related to colleges not receiving the most basic information — a recent academic transcript.
At the same time, Lauren also needs to broaden her search and broaden her options by applying to colleges where she ranks above their average applicant pool. These are still excellent institutions of higher learning, even though they may not have the patina of name recognition. Many students may find a better fit and a better price at those colleges.
I have tremendous empathy for deferred students because a deferral places them in an unkind limbo of sorts until spring. This wait-and-see period is even more stressful if the college is the student’s first choice. However, deferrals are not rejections. They simply mean the college wants to wait and see if they can recruit students with higher grades and standardized tests, or gauge to see if the student is truly interested. The best thing students can do for themselves is email or write to their rep and express their continued interest in attending while providing all documents needed.
C. Claire Law, M.S., has served families on Daniel Island and the Lowcountry since 2004. She is a Professional Member of IECA, Certified Educational Planner, college admission, and financial aid expert.