Updated: Feb 6
So you spent months writing essays, gathering recommendation letters, prepping for the SAT, and you finally sent off that dream-school application early action. After another month or more of waiting, you receive your answer: not a rejection (hurrah!), but not an acceptance either. You have been deferred.
What does that mean?
The first and most important thing to remember is that a deferral is NOT a rejection. Let that sink in. You have applied to a competitive university, in a highly competitive pool of early-action applicants, and you have not been rejected. That is a triumph in itself, and something you should remember to be proud of.
When a college defers you, it means they have decided to re-evaluate your application with the broader pool of regular decision applicants. They’ve had one look at your materials with the early pool, couldn’t make a firm decision whether you would be a good fit, but still think you’re very impressive and so are going to see how you stack up with the pool of regular applicants. (Getting waitlisted is a bit different, as that means that you are qualified, and they would like to have you, but they have already fulfilled their enrolled numbers. Your fate, then, is less in the hands of the admissions office and more in the hands of the students who are second-guessing their matriculation. Still, a letter of continued interest can be a good move for many waitlisted students.)
The key, as with all things application-related, is to be sure to thoroughly read any instructions the college provides you. Sometimes, a school will explicitly ask that you don’t write a letter, or, in the case of a waitlist, that you need only check a box that says you’d like to remain in consideration. In the majority of cases, schools will happily accept letters of continued interest as long as they truly are providing new information, and not simply begging for admission. You can always write to your regional admissions officer (if you know who they are) or can call/email the admissions office to ask if you may send a letter of continued interest.
What to include
Always begin by thanking the admissions committee for their consideration, and for taking the time to read over your materials. The letter should be formal but should read like you actually wrote it. If the school is truly your first choice, and if you truly will attend if you are accepted, you can let them know that. The bulk of the note should be any relevant updates from your academic, athletic, creative, or extracurricular life – that is, anything you would have included on your application in the first place.
Did you lead your track team to their first ever state championship? Did you place first in regionals at National History Day? Did you win a national essay competition? All great things to update the admissions committee about. Similarly, if your grade in a class (or classes) has significantly improved, and you are now performing higher than you were at the time of submitting your transcripts, that would be a good thing to let them know.
Conversely, getting an A on an assignment – even a difficult one – does not warrant an update. Neither does starting a new hobby, joining a new club, or reading a new book, no matter how dense or long it is. The main thing they don’t want is a thinly veiled attempt at re-hashing your original application materials. DO NOT try to rewrite your common app essay in this letter, and do not try to highlight achievements that you have already mentioned – and they have already seen – on your application. Remember that this letter is going to be read in addition to your application, not in place of it.
Furthermore, it’s good to have some specificity about the school you’re writing to, so they don’t assume you’re writing the same blanket letter to several institutions. If you’ve since visited the school again, or taken an online class they offer, or been to a talk, feel free to mention that. Otherwise, you can always take a sentence or two to reiterate why you are so enthusiastic about their college, and therefore why you are compelled to write this letter.
What should it look like/how long should it be/this is stressing me out
Don’t be too stressed! The hardest part is already over. Feel confident in the strong application you’ve put together and remember that the letter is simply a place for you to achieve three objectives:
1. Express your genuine enthusiasm in the school (done explicitly)
2. Update the admissions committee on your additional achievements (done explicitly)
3. Show that you are a desirable candidate and they should want to accept you (done implicitly)
Number 3 is achieved when you do a good job with 1 and 2, and when you hit the right tone of being enthusiastic but not overbearing. (It should go without saying, but never inundate admissions officers with emails, cards, or phone calls, and never tell them they’re making a mistake by not accepting you. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but always err on the side of humility.)
That said, the letter shouldn’t be too long. They don’t want to read another 2-page essay, because you’ve already submitted that! A few paragraphs or less should be plenty of space for you to say everything you need.
Even though it’s a letter where you certainly want your personality to come through, it’s still a formal piece of writing and so should follow the appropriate conventions. It should be addressed as “Dear ____” (probably not a first name, unless you are sincerely on a first name basis), shouldn’t use slang or overly familiar terms, and should be signed off along the lines of:
“Thank you again for your consideration.
You can do this! Think about which schools matter most to you, and if you really want to express your interest to them, go ahead and do it. Consider the three objectives of the letter, be concise, and don’t be afraid to have some of your personality shine through.
Best of luck!