Declined or Deferred - Now What?

What to Do When Your First College Choice Doesn’t Work Out


As the calendar year draws to a close, many high school seniors are anxiously awaiting word regarding their early decision or early action college applications. For many there is a great sigh of relief as they are accepted, but for others there is disappointment as they are either declined or deferred. This can be especially painful when all hopes were pinned on one particular college. You can take some time to let this sink in, but then it is necessary to start thinking about your next steps.

There is still time to apply to, and be accepted at, many quality colleges. Here are some steps to take when your first college choice doesn’t work out:

  • Understand the difference between deferred and declined: Declined means that you have not been accepted to that particular college. Deferred means you have not been accepted now, but could be in the future. If you have been declined you definitely need to look for alternative solutions, but it is also a good idea to have a back-up plan if you have been deferred.

  • Review your application: Look over your application yourself, or ask a trusted advisor to do it for you to see if there are any areas which could be improved. Look at your essays and think about whether they should be rewritten for other applications. Think about any activities or courses you have completed since submitting these applications which might make you look like a stronger candidate.

  • Communicate appropriately: If you feel that you need to communicate with the admissions office to restate your case or ask for clarification, do so in a polite and adult manner. You want to have a conversation to find out where you can improve your efforts, and determine whether there might still be a chance of being accepted. Don’t pester the admissions office, but it is acceptable to communicate appropriately.

  • Evaluate your options: Look at the other schools on your original lists, and think about why you decided to opt for your first choice instead of them. Perhaps some of these colleges might look more appealing to you now, and could be worth the application.

  • Continue with your financial aid process: You still want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January. In fact, this might turn out to be a good thing if you apply to more colleges and still get accepted from your first choice off the deferral list. Then you will be able to compare financial aid packages from all schools and make a more informed choice.

Realize that you are not the only person who has been deferred or declined for a college application. It hurts, but you must know that many other people have been in similar situations and went on to astonishing levels of success in college and life. You have made some progress in life by the mere fact that you have taken on the college application process; don’t lose that crucial momentum.

What you must do is simply decide to move forward with a positive attitude. The college application process is similar to the job search process, and lessons you learn now could serve you well in the future.

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you think you want them to but, if you continue pursuing your dreams with a passion and excel at a college that accepts you, you might still find out that second choice isn’t such a bad thing after all.