Every year high school students apply to universities and anxiously await the news: will they be accepted or rejected? But, it isn’t always that simple. College admissions offices can assign your application to two other possible categories. It is important to know what these are, what they mean and what to do about it.


When a student receives a deferment, it means the university is postponing making a decision on their application. It means there was not enough information to definitely reject nor accept the candidate. They are going to wait to gather more information.

This often occurs when a student applied for an Early Decision. They may be waiting to see another test score, or more grades.

In case of deferment, refrain from calling the admissions office too frequently or sending in more recommendation letters. This can often have the opposite effect than you intended. Instead, study hard to get good grades to allow the process to play out.

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A waitlist is different from a deferment. It means you are a good candidate for admission to their university, but there are too few slots to allow all their good candidates in. You are going to have to wait and see.

Just as students are not accepted at every university they apply to, colleges do not always get every student they accept. After sending out a certain number of acceptance letters, they wait to see how many enrollments they will get. Depending on how many students they initially accepted, they will have a certain number of openings once accepted students make their final decisions.

Some colleges accept a lot of waitlisted students, others accept very few. You can find out during the process how likely you are to finally be accepted if you have been waitlisted.

What to Do About It

If you have been waitlisted at a school with a traditionally high acceptance rate from its waitlist, or if you have been deferred, your best bet is to find out what to do for that particular university. Different schools will have different processes.

  • At many schools you must accept the waitlist. If this is what you want to do, dot your i’s and cross your t’s or you can find yourself excluded from the process.
  • Some schools will make time for interviews for students who have been deferred. This can be a great way to give yourself a little extra advantage when the time comes to make the final decision.
  • Often a letter can make a big difference. This is not a recommendation letter, this is a personal letter to the admissions office explaining why you are excited for the opportunity to go there. Sell yourself. Tell them how you will contribute to the school. If it is your first choice, be sure to say so.

After the agony of waiting for a decision on your acceptance to a university, a waitlist or a deferment can be a letdown. Stay positive and do the little things right and you may yet find yourself enrolled at your first-choice school come fall.

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