What’s the Difference Between Deferred and Waitlisted?

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Fortunately, in most ways, the college application process is something most of us go through only once. However, this also means that the process is unfamiliar and new, and it can be confusing to understand what different terms mean and signify. Two such terms are “deferred” and “waitlisted,” both of which are potential responses to your college applications. However, while they may sound similar — and do in fact have some similarities — they’re ultimately very different, and it’s important to understand how.

What Does It Mean to Be Deferred?

 Deferral is a possible response to an early decision or early action college application. It falls somewhere between acceptance and denial, and basically means that the admissions officer has decided to evaluate your application again along with the regular decision applicants.

 As part of being evaluated again in the regular decision pool, your application is basically transformed from an early decision application to a regular decision application. You’re no longer bound to go to that college if you’re admitted (as you were if you applied early decision), and you won’t have your final answer until the same time as your peers who applied regular decision — usually in March.


What Does It Mean to Be Waitlisted?

Being waitlisted occurs in the regular decisions process, and means that the college likes you enough to remain interested in you but doesn’t currently have a spot for you. If enough other students who were admitted don’t choose to attend, you may get in. Like a deferral, it isn’t an outright rejection, and means you’ll need to wait to find out whether you’ll be admitted.

Deferrals are generally sent in March, since they’re part of the regular application decision process. Frustratingly, but because of the nature of waitlists, you won’t hear back about whether you made it off the waitlist until after responses to colleges are due in May. In other words, you may need to commit to a different college before hearing back about whether you’ll get off the waitlist, and will then likely lose a security deposit if you choose to switch to the school that waitlisted you.


Being Waitlisted or Deferred: The Similarities

Being waitlisted is something like the regular decision equivalent of the ED/EA deferral. Both deny you the celebration of an acceptance without offering the finality of a rejection, instead leaving the door open for a potential future acceptance. 

In both cases, contacting the college in question may be in your best interest if you still want to go there. If you’re waitlisted, you’ll need to confirm to the college that you want to accept your spot on the waitlist. After that, though, writing a letter of continued interest can be valuable in both cases. It shows the college that you’re still interested in attending, gives you an opportunity to sell yourself again, and can let you persuade the college that you’ll boost its yield rate if you’re accepted.

Questions? Let us know!