The Difference Between Being Deferred and Waitlisted

on April 22, 2016

We’ve had some questions recently about whether there is any difference between being waitlisted and being deferred.

The answer is yes, there is.

The difference between the waitlist and a deferral is small but important to be aware of in case you wound up with a letter from admissions with one of those two answers. So here’s what sets the waitlist apart from the deferral pile:

The Waitlist


If you are informed by your dream college that you’ve been placed on the waitlist, it means that you qualify for admission and that they like you, but other applicants have been given higher priority. It’s not the best news you can hear from the college you want to go to, but it means that there’s certainly a chance you might just wind up getting in. Here’s a sports analogy: It means you’re a backup player. The coach has his favorite starters, but still sees value in his bench warmers. If there are injuries and a starter has to sit out for the rest of the season, you’re in!

For a college, the waitlist is insurance so that if accepted students enroll elsewhere, they can pull other qualified people up and avoid big holes in their upcoming school year’s class.  If you’re put on the waitlist at your number one school, it never hurts to remind the admissions office of your interest and to update them on any new accomplishments.

A Deferral


There are different types of deferrals, one on the student’s behalf and the other on the college’s. We’re talking about the deferral from a college today, but just so you know, a student who is accepted to a college can often defer enrollment for a certain number of years for various reasons–travel, family, personal issues, etc.

Receiving a deferral from a college means that the admissions office hasn’t made any decision about you, except that they haven’t outright denied your acceptance. Deferrals from acceptance are mostly relevant to students who applied to a college through Early Action or Early Decision. If you weren’t denied or accepted, your application has been deferred into the regular admissions group and will then compete with those applications.

The silver lining is that if you were deferred from Early Action or Early Admission and then you are admitted, you are no longer obligated to attend if you are accepted. If you are deferred as a regular admissions applicant, it generally means the school wants more information about you before making a final admissions decision. They might ask for your senior year grades, more test scores, letters of recommendation, etc. If they request any information, do your best to get it in as soon as possible as it will speed up the decision process.

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