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As 2016 came to a close, many seniors heard from colleges to which they had applied Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA). Some students celebrated because they got in; others were disappointed to learn that they didn’t.  A third group may have been confused by the decision they received: deferral.  What is a deferral, and what, if anything, should you do now?

If you were deferred, this means you have not been admitted or denied.  Rather, your application has been moved to Regular Decision, where it will be reviewed again, along with the applications of students who applied during the regular round.  The good news is, there is still a chance you could get in; the bad news is, you’ll probably have to wait until March to find out.

If you applied to a college ED and were deferred, the admissions decision is no longer binding.  This means that even if you are accepted at a later date, you are not obligated to enroll.  It also means you are free to apply to other schools.  Hopefully, you planned ahead and had most, if not all, of those other applications finished and ready to submit before you even heard back from your ED school.  If you haven’t applied anywhere else, there’s still time.  Many colleges have regular decision deadlines of February 1 or later or have rolling admissions.

Regardless of whether you were deferred at a college where you applied ED or EA, you should not sit back and do nothing until you receive a final decision.  (Unless, that is, you’ve decided you no longer want to go to that school, because doing nothing will basically guarantee that you won’t get in.)  A deferral gives you an opportunity to continue demonstrating interest in a college and to communicate any accomplishments you’ve had since applying.  How, exactly, can you do that?

First, check to see if the college requires a mid-year report — a transcript showing your first semester grades.  Chances are that if you were deferred, the college will want to see how you did first semester.  This requirement may have been communicated along with the deferral; if it wasn’t, check the college’s website or call the admissions office.  Ask your school counselor to send the college your updated transcript as soon as it is available.  In addition to sending your first semester grades, if you took the SAT or ACT again after submitting your application and your scores improved, send your new scores.

Not only should you submit your first semester grades, you should inform the college of any achievements you’ve had since you submitted your application.  Did your team win a state championship?  Did you come in first place at a debate tournament?  Did you start a new school club or become an officer of an existing club?  Did you get a job?  All of these are examples of the kinds of updates you should communicate to the college, and, unless asked to do otherwise, you can do so via email.  If the college has an admissions officer who is assigned to your state or region, be sure to email that person.

Emailing an admissions officer also offers you an opportunity to demonstrate continued interest in the college.  You might say something like, “This college remains my first choice because…”.  Give specific reasons why it is still your top choice, just like you (hopefully) did if you had to write an essay about why you wanted to go to that school.  If you’ve learned anything new about the college since you applied and that information is personally relevant to you, you could mention that as well.

Keep your email short and simple.  A paragraph or two is sufficient; you do not need to send a novel-length update on your life, nor do you need to send multiple emails over the course of the next few months.  You want to let the admissions officer know you remain interested; you don’t want to overwhelm or bug him or her.

Other ways to demonstrate interest include visiting the college if you haven’t already done so, scheduling an interview if interviews are available and you haven’t already had one, and meeting with an admissions officer if he or she visits your school (although most such visits occur during the fall).

While doing the above will help your chances of being admitted during Regular Decision, it’s also important to be realistic.  At many of the most selective colleges, the acceptance rate for deferred applicants is lower than the overall acceptance rate.  As you wait for the final decision, focus on the other schools you applied to.  Remember that they, too, have much to offer you if you don’t get into the school at which you were deferred.