The agony of defeat has been well documented, at least by ABC Sports. The agony of deferral? Not so much.

Those who apply to college Early Decision/Early Action wait with great anticipation -- not to mention high anxiety -- for that early word from colleges. The "yea" or "nay." The official "thumbs up" or "thumbs down."

Then comes that letter -- or email. "Congrats. You're in!" Jubilation. "Sorry. You're out." Devastation.* Or that vast chasm of uncertainty, the dreaded, "We can't make a decision at this time. You're deferred."

As anyone waiting for anything out of their own control can tell you, not knowing is often worse than knowing -- even when the "knowing" is not necessarily the news you wanted to hear.

Why deferred?

Well, for one thing, the pool of applicants is ever-increasing (hence the competitive and selective nature of the admissions process), and though the "deferred" applicant's credentials are clearly good enough to be considered, admissions wants to see how you measure up against other applicants in the Regular Decision/Rolling Admissions pool.

And so, the wait goes on -- and on, and on.

What to do if your acceptance (or, dare we say it, denial) is deferred?

First, that pint of Forbidden Chocolate ice cream would sit well right about now. Then, take a deep breath, relax, and double down on those colleges you really want to get into.

From our colleague Allen Grove at College Admissions, aside from not hitting the panic button [Stay Calm and Carry On. It's Only College!], here are a few things you can do to possibly improve the odds of ultimate success:

1. Find Out Why You Were Deferred

Unless the college asks you not to do so, give the admissions office a call and try to find out why you were deferred. Be polite and positive when making this call. Try to convey your enthusiasm for the college, and see if there were particular weaknesses in your application that you might be able to address.

2. Update Your Information

Chances are the college will ask for your midyear grades. If you were deferred because of a marginal GPA, the college will want to see that your grades are on an upward trend. Also, think about other information that might be worth sending:
  • New and improved SAT or ACT scores
  • Membership in a new extracurricular activity
  • A new leadership position in a group or team
  • A new honor or award

3. Send a New Letter of Recommendation

Is there someone who knows you well who can really promote you effectively? If so, an additional letter of recommendation might be a good idea (but make sure the college allows extra letters). Ideally, this letter should talk about the specific personal qualities that make you an ideal match for the particular college that has deferred you. A generic letter won't be nearly as effective as a letter that explains why you are a good match for your first-choice college.

4. Send Supplemental Materials

Many applications, including the Common Application, provide the opportunity for sending in supplemental materials. You don't want to overwhelm the admissions office, but you should feel free to send in writing or other materials that will show the full breadth of what you can contribute to the campus community.

5. Be Polite

As you try to get out of deferral limbo, you're likely to correspond with the admissions office several times. Try to keep your frustration, disappointment and anger in check. Be polite. Be positive. Admissions officers are remarkably busy this time of year, and their time is limited. Thank them for any time they give you. Also, make sure your correspondence doesn't become pesky or harassing.

6. Have a Back-Up

While many deferred students do get accepted during regular admissions, many do not. You should do all you can to get into your top choice school, but you should also be realistic. Make sure you have applied to a range of reach, match and safety colleges so that you will have other options should you get a rejection letter from your first choice.

7. Sample Letters

If you have been deferred but have new information to present to the college, you'll want to write a letter presenting the updates. Below are a few samples letters:
  • Sample Letter #1: Caitlin writes to the University of Georgia to explain a new award.
  • Sample Letter #2: Laura writes to Johns Hopkins to present new test scores and a new leadership position on campus.
  • Sample Letter #3: Brian writes to Syracuse University but would have done better not writing. See his letter to learn about mistakes to avoid.

The College Whisperer would add a number 8 (which, if memory serves, brings us back to where we started): Consume a pint of Forbidden Chocolate ice cream (or substitute your fav comfort food).

Above all, keep in mind that you are still in the running for that seat in next fall's freshman class. Do not fret. Never despair. And (this is where the * comes in), even should you be denied, it is not -- I repeat, NOT -- the end of the world [that, my friends, comes on December 21st ;-) ]. Like that once-in-a-lifetime vacation spot that is fully booked, or that chic restaurant that doesn't have a reservation until sometime in the next century, there are other -- and often better -- choices.

With over 3000 accredited colleges and universities in this country, you will surely find solace -- as well as great programs, good food, and a comfy bed requiring extra long sheets -- at a school you will be delighted to call "home" for the next four years!

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process?
The College Whisperer knows. . .

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