Deferred Early Decision Applicant Asks for Advice

Question: I applied to an Ivy League school for early decision. My application was postponed until regular decision. Is there anything I can do to make the admissions committee look at me differently the second time around?

Sorry to hear you were deferred by your first-choice college. That’s the bad news. The good news, of course, is that you’re still in the running. Some applicants are put out of their misery with denial lettersâ€"not deferralsâ€"at Early Decision time.

You are wise to be asking what to do next. The most successful deferred candidates are indeed those who don’t simply sit back and wait for a thicker letter in April. For starters, think about your guidance counselor. Is he (or she) someone who might be a strong and articulate advocate for you? If so, ask your counselor to call (or even e-mail) this Ivy League college and try to find out if there’s anything you can do to improve your chances in the spring. What he will be really asking, of course, is “Why didn’t this great kid get in?” While it’s not likely admission officials will give a specific answer, it’s possible. If, for instance, your counselor learns that the college had concerns about your writing, you could then submit an unsolicited essay or other additional writing samples. (Have someone else check them out first.) If your counselor is told that your extracurricular activities looked mundane, this could give him a chance to speak up in your favor. (“The chess club Alfred founded has become the hottest group in the school, and he’s now started a club for disadvantaged elementary students.”) In other words, urge your counselor to go to bat for youâ€"and not just now, immediately following the deferral. Remind him to stay in touch with admission officials periodically until final decisions are made in March.

If you know your test scores were low by your target college’s standards, consider whether one more crack at them might mean improvement. Are there SAT II tests you could take successfully that you haven’t? Were your junior grades less strong than past performance? Make sure your senior record is first-rate, or you won’t stand a chance of admission.

The vast majority of Ivy League candidates, however, are admissible applicants who have done nothing “wrong.” They simply do not stand out in a crowd of hyperachieving competitors. So you must be an advocate for yourself as well. Make a contact in the admission office (typically, it’s the representative who covers your geographic area or high school, though you could also get in touch with the official who interviewed you, if applicable, or the counselor in charge of minority applicants, legacy applicants, athletes, etc., if any of these special circumstances apply to you). Let him or her know how much you want to attend, and repeat your contact regularly. If you garner any truly outstanding honors during this waiting period or add special achievements to your resume, then this is the time to tell your admission office “friend” and to also notify the office in writing. (Don’t bother submitting updates about run-of-the-mill endeavors or awards. Shoot for the biggies only.)

Finally, if you can come up with an appropriate “gimmick” to get yourself noticed, don’t be shy. For instance, if your application touts your talents as a musician, this might be the time to compose a new piece in honor of your target school. If you’re a painter, a picture of the campus (with yourself in the middle of it), might be an amusing and memorable offering.

America’s Elite Colleges by College Confidential’s Dave Berry and David Hawsey offers some other good ideas for deferred and waitlisted applicants. You also might want to consider additional counseling to make sure you have applied to a realistic range of Regular-Decision colleges while you wait for better news from your ED school.

Go to College Counseling for more information.

Good luck to you. We hope you land at the college you most want, but keep in mind that there are lots of good matches out there for every student, and even if your dream deferred should become a dream denied, you may look back years later and be glad you ended up where you did.