What’s the Difference Between Deferred vs Waitlisted?

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Gelyna Price
Gelyna Price

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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? Let’s start with “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. In your best interests, it’s important to understand how deferred vs waitlisted works early on.

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; it basically means that the admissions officer has decided to evaluate your application again along with the regular decision applicants.

 As you join the regular decision pool, your application basically converts from an early decision application to a regular decision application. You’re no longer in a contract to go to that college if you do receive an offer later (which can happen with early decision). In addition, 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?

Receiving news you are on the waitlist, however, occurs in the regular decisions process. This news means that the college likes you enough to remain interested, but doesn’t currently have a spot for you. If enough other students don’t choose to attend, you may get in. Like a deferral, it isn’t an outright rejection; instead, it means you’ll need to wait to find out whether you will earn admission.

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 until after responses to colleges are due in May to know if you’re off the list. In other words, you may need to commit to a different college before hearing back about whether you’ll get off the waitlist! You will then likely lose a security deposit if you choose to switch to the school that waitlisted you.

Being Waitlisted or Deferred: The Similarities

Landing on the waitlist 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 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; that is, if you still want to go there. If you are on the waitlist, 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 curious about 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 receive an offer.

And if you’re still confused about the difference and what to do about deferred vs waitlisted news, just give us a call.

Questions? Let us know!