By Mark Cruver, MEd, IECA (GA)

Deferment can be equally as troublesome for independent educational consultants (IECs) as it is for students. After spending countless hours and weeks advising, coaching, encouraging, and motivating students to apply to first-choice colleges and universities, we all wait with anticipation for the news. When the moment arrives for some, the rattled voice on the other end of the phone communicates all we need to know. And then, much like our students, we wonder what went wrong.

The one undeniable truth is the increased number of deferrals. It has proven to be an extraordinary year in contrast to previous years. This year’s number of deferred students has echoed through the early decision announcements. What is it about these announcements that has rattled our minds, our hearts, and even our confidence?

Looking at the Numbers

Perhaps one significant reason for an apparent increase in student deferments can be found in the numbers—they surely tell a story. As noted in U.S. News & World Report (Friedman 2017), acceptance rates have dropped with an overwhelming rise in applications. More students are applying to more schools, but the number of students needed to fill an entering class changes relatively little. There are many factors, but to add fuel to the fire, colleges are placing a huge emphasis on early decisions, so much so that some are adding a second early decision window. That race, requiring the students’ best foot forward, is crowded and requires a calculated approach that shines.

With that said, more students are identifying their top choice early. At Duke University for example, this year’s early decision students will make up 51% of the incoming class. With a record number of early decision applicants, up 16% over last year, came a decrease in early decision admits at Duke. This created an even greater competitive environment within the pool. A similar environment was seen on many campuses throughout the country, resulting in more deferred decisions than ever before.

Revisiting the Process

Building and recommending the college list for students is a process that IECs take very seriously. Understanding the students and matching them with colleges that fit them best are priorities.  But despite our best efforts, students still get deferred. Quite frankly, in most cases, there simply aren’t enough spaces for fully qualified students. Given the deeply invested process by both the IEC and the student, it is important to discuss the “what if” scenario to prepare students for that Plan B.

Remember, the process we take students on is a journey and with all the best research and confident selection, college admissions offices continue to hold the keys. When the doors remain locked, we question the process and selection, and the students question themselves. We do our best; the student does his or her best; and yet, many are deferred, denied, or waitlisted. Warikoo (2017) wrote that “Harvard President Drew Faust has said that Harvard could fill its coming class twice with high school valedictorians….So looking for explanations for why you did get in, or whether some groups are favored over others, misses the broader picture of the lack of clarity on what gets anyone into elite colleges. It also ignores the unequal opportunities young Americans have in the process.”

Dealing With Deferment

Evelyn Alexander (CA) (2016) recommends her students do the following if deferred or waitlisted:

• Go back to your college list and find one more reason why this college is a great match for you! They need to know that you know they are a good match.

• Identify any new information about you that has taken place since you submitted your application, such as a new leadership or volunteer role, job, activity, honor, academic award, or athletic accomplishment; anything that was forgotten or unknown; or an article or publication about you and your accomplishments.

• Reach out by email to the admissions counselor responsible for your geographic area and let him or her know about those new things and why you are still very interested in their college or university. It’s also a great opportunity to ask about the possibility of an interview.

Continuing the Process

It’s no secret how difficult the deferred decision is on students. They have clearly invested much of their college journey in making applications to their top choices. To receive news of deferment can be devastating. As IECs, it is our role to encourage, further inspire, and continue to speak well of the process and the journey. Depending on the school, the likelihood of admission after deferral varies greatly, and guiding students through what is realistic can be considerably helpful.

Expectations are at an all-time high, and for those students disappointed by deferment, there’s no better advice than this from MIT’s assistant director of admissions, Chris Peterson (2017), who recommends that students “take a deep breath, shake it off, and go crush the rest of their college applications this cycle.”


Alexander, Evelyn. 2016. “Wait Lists: What to Do.” [vlog]

Friedman, Jordan. 2017, September 28. “U.S. News Data: Admission Trends at Top Colleges.” U.S. News & World Report.

Peterson, Chris. 2017, December 14. “MIT Early Decisions Now Available Online.” [blog]

Warikoo, Natasha. 2017, December 13. “You’re not going to get accepted into a top university on merit alone. [blog]. The Conversation.

Mark Cruver, Capstone Educational Consultants, can be reached at [email protected].

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