Early Decision: The Difference Between Deferral and Denial

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Gelyna Price
Gelyna Price

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

If you’ve applied to a college as early decision, you’re probably on tenterhooks right about now. At most colleges, those decisions will be made this month, and you’ll soon have your answer as to whether you’ve been admitted to your dream school. You may be hearing some unfamiliar words being tossed around regarding admissions. For example, what’s the difference between deferral and denial? Let’s dig a little deeper to find out.

With a little luck, that answer will be a thrilling “yes,” and you’ll be able to celebrate (and stop stressing about college applications). Unfortunately, though, not everyone will receive this good news. There are two other potential outcomes for your early decision application: deferral and denial. While acceptance is pretty clear, the other two options can be more ambiguous.

What Is Deferral?

In the context of early decision applications, deferral means that the college wasn’t able to accept you in the early decision cycle. Nonetheless, the college sees enough potential in your application to want to evaluate it again with the regular decision applicants. Basically, your ED application has been turned into a regular decision application.

What this means for you:
  • Your application is no longer binding. If you’re accepted during the regular decision process, you are no longer obligated to attend this school.
  • You have more freedom. In other words, you can apply to other schools and decide among all the colleges that accept you.
  • You can take some steps to increase your odds of getting into the school that deferred you. This will unfold during the upcoming regular decision round. Stay tuned for our upcoming post on exactly this topic!

What Is Denial?

Unlike deferral, denial means that the college in question is not going to consider your application again. Even during the regular admissions period. Your application has been denied entirely, not just denied for early decision.

A common question is whether you can reapply during regular admissions if you’ve been denied during early admissions. Unfortunately, the answer is no. An ED denial is final for the entire application cycle.

Of course, you still have some options to consider!

Continue applying

You’re now free of the binding commitment of ED, so you can turn your attention toward other schools that may be better fits for you.

Gap year

You can take a gap year between high school and college. A denial is just for the upcoming year, not forever. If you take a gap year, you can reapply to your dream school next year after spending the next months doing things to strengthen your application.


Depending on the school, you may be able to appeal the rejection. Not all schools allow this, and there’s not much chance you’ll be successful in your appeal. Still, if this was your dream school (and especially if there was a mistake or you neglected to include something in your original application), it may be worth a shot.

Second wave of “early” applications

Check whether any of the other schools high on your list have an Early Decision II option. This is similar to ED in that it’s binding, but applications for it are generally due at the same time as regular applications. However, you’ll typically find out the decision by early February.

Questions? Let us know!