skip to main content
College Planning Center
What can students do?

What can students do?

Many students frequently find themselves in the unhappy position of having been deferred or wait-listed at their first choice school. The following information should be helpful both in terms of what to do, as well as what the chances are of still being admitted in these situations.



From College

Accept, reject, and wait list are scenarios that run through the minds of college applicants until spring, when colleges send out their decision letters. Yet, this time of year, some early admission applicants are getting familiar with another application outcome: deferral. The jury will be out for these applicants, rolled over to the general applicant pool, until the Regular Decision general admissions cycle has run its course. Deferrals are the purgatory of Early Decision and Early Action (ED/EA) college admissions. You're not in, but you're not out. You're just hanging there, waiting for the April Regular Decision-shoe to fall. It's exquisite anguish. 


Many applicants would much rather be rejected outright so that they can just get on with things, without the unfinished business of "admit" or "deny" hanging over them. Most likely, if you've been deferred your credentials are in the ballpark for getting accepted. If they weren't, you'd be rejected. However, your application wasn't so far above average that the college wanted to give up a spot in the entering class until they could compare you to the full applicant pool. The percentages vary from college to college, but many students do get accepted after being deferred.

Deferral can signal hope, or be like a mirage in the desert, something that was never there in the first place. The circumstances surrounding the deferral are what really count here. Why do schools issue deferrals? "Sometimes, schools want to see a high school senior's first quarter or semester grades before they make a decision" on early admissions applicants, says Senior Consultant, Nadine C. Warner. Warner, a former a former assistant director of admissions at the University of Chicago, adds, "Other times they want to see if other students from the school are going to apply during the Regular Decision admissions cycle so they can compare this student with the other students."


The point is that schools want to see how an early decision applicant looks in comparison to the big picture, the general applicant pool. Admissions officers are eager to fill up first-year classes with top applicants and in the process bolster their school's prestige by attracting the most accomplished students. And, to muddy the waters even more, an ever-expanding roster of colleges now offer a second round of Early Decision--usually with a January 1 deadline. So sometimes "strategizing" includes moving on to an ED II option after being denied--or even deferred--in December by the ED I choice. (Confusing, isn't it?)

What should you do if you end up deferred?

What should you do if you end up deferred?

You must undertake a carefully deployed program of self-marketing to further enhance your "almost good enough" application. After all, if the colleges deferring you weren't interested in you, they would have rejected you, right? Let's take a look at what you can do to improve your chances of getting in:


Your job is twofold:

  • First, you need to establish a distinguishable presence with the admissions office without becoming a pest.

  • Second, you need to reveal more of yourself and your sincere passion to attend your target college.


How do you do this?

First, you need to communicate your continued interest with the admission office. This should be done by letter (and e-mail is fine, too.) In most cases, the best person to contact is the regional rep for your area of the country. Your job is to find out who this person is. Call admissions and ask for that person's name and e-mail address.


The purpose of your letter will be to:

Emphasize your ongoing interest in this college. (If you will definitely enroll if admitted, be sure to say so clearly). Explain why this college is a great match for you. Your reasons should be as specific as possible ("I have done research on the role of women in Mesopotamia and am eager to work with Professor Snurdley whose writing in this area is renowned") and not generic ("It is an excellent school, and I fell in love with the beautiful campus"). Provide updates on what you have done since you sent your application. Ideally, this list would include significant achievements ("I won a national physics contest") but, more commonly, you've been too busy with academics and applications to say much more than, "I pulled up my Calculus grade from a B- to a B+"). Once you've communicated this list to your admission rep, you can follow up with additional updates when you have more news to report. Meanwhile, think about how you can generate such news. Apply for an internship, enter a contest, and get a part-time job.


Finally, you can always consider going for broke with a “gimmick." For instance, if your application touts your talents as a budding poet, perhaps it's time to write your "Homily to Haverford” or your "Ode to Occidental." Granted, gimmicks don't often work, and there's usually a huge element of luck involved if you try them because an effort that might delight one admission official could potentially irk another. But, especially when it comes to candidates at the hyper-selective schools, where your chances aren't too hot to begin with, a carefully conceived outside-the-box approach might just be your very best shot.




When you end up on a wait list, you’re in the twilight zone. Essentially you're on-call. Wait lists are a kind of hedge against the unpredictability of accepted students enrolling at a college. From many years of experience, colleges know rather precisely what percentage of the total number of students offered admission will enroll. That percentage is called yield.


For example, if a college is looking to admit a freshman class of 1,000 students, they may offer 2,000 students admission. That’s because they know their yield is almost always around 50 percent. If their yield were historically 25 percent, they would offer 4,000 students admission, and so forth.


Sometimes, however, the yield flies in the face of history. When more than the expected number of students enroll (exceeding historical yield), temporary housing has to be acquired and there is a strain on college resources. When fewer than expected students enroll, colleges go to their wait lists and offer admission to those who are “in waiting.” This way, the college makes certain that the incoming freshman class is the right size.


The wait list can serve other purposes. At super-selective schools, where there are many more qualified applicants than can be accommodated, applicants are wait listed as a consolation. Instead of being turned down for admission, they are put on the wait list, the implication being, “We wish we could have admitted you, but there wasn’t room.” Diplomacy lives. The likelihood of being admitted from the wait list is small. Some schools wait list 500-600 applicants. Your only chance is to undertake a heavy-duty marketing effort with the admissions office. Even then, your chances are small.

UC to Wait-List Some Freshman Applicants

UC to Wait-List Some Freshman Applicants

  • Whether or not a campus will offer admission to students on a waitlist depends on a number of factors, including the number of students initially offered admission who accept a space by May 1 (June 1 for transfers), and campus and department enrollment goals. There is nothing that a student should or can do other than opt-in to the waitlist by the stated deadline. Any additional information submitted that was not requested by the campus will not be considered.


The process for selecting students from the waitlist varies at each campus. A campus might have enrollment goals for a particular major, leading to the admission of students who applied to that program, but not others. Or a campus might admit broadly.

Can a student who was wait listed appeal their admission decision?

Can a student who was wait listed appeal their admission decision?

For freshman students:

  • Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles and San Diego will only allow appeals from students who were denied admission. Applicants offered a waitlist space may not appeal.

  • Irvine and Riverside will allow waitlisted applicants to appeal only if they opt-in to the waitlist. If a student’s appeal is denied, they may remain on the waitlist.

  • Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz will review all appeals, whether an applicant is on the waitlist or not.

  • Merced is not using a waitlist.




The information below comes from UCLA, and is fairly representative of the appeal process at most universities:


UCLA does not set aside space in our class for students who appeal admission decisions. Every denied application has gone through extensive reviews. Therefore, for an appeal to have merit it must bring to light new academic and personal information as well as information pertaining to extenuating circumstances that was not present in the application—information that clearly shows the student to be stronger than had been earlier evidenced. High grades received in the senior year are not a basis for the reversal of a decision.


Submitting an Appeal


1. Send us a letter requesting that we reconsider your application. The letter must come from you (the applicant), and be postmarked no later than mid-April.

2. Your letter must clearly outline your reasons for appealing the initial decision. The information you present should be new and compelling. Your letter should not simply repeat information that had already been presented in your application.

3. Submit your high school transcript from the most recent term; please note the transcript must have course information and grades from the fall semester of your senior year and any additional semesters available at the time of appeal; an official transcript in the school's sealed envelope is preferred

4. If the basis for your appeal involves specifics such as a changed grade or an incorrectly reported test score, you should provide documentation (e.g., transcript or a revised score report) in the same envelope as your letter of appeal.

5. Letters of recommendation are not required. However, if you wish to include such letters with your appeal, the limit is two (2). It is also recommended that these be submitted in the same envelope as your letter of appeal.


It is UCLA's usual practice to respond to appeals within three (3) weeks of the date we receive them. However, we cannot guarantee a response by May 1, the date by which many institutions require their applicants to make a commitment. We encourage applicants to consider all of their educational options. While all appeals are reviewed on case-by-case basis, the rate of a decision being reversed based upon an appeal has historically been very low.


How to Appeal an Admissions Decision


What is an appeal?


An appeal is a student’s formal request, in writing, that a college reconsider an application for admission. The appeal letter should be about one page and should explain your position why you believe you should be reconsidered for admission. Some colleges also invite you to include extra material that wasn’t in your original application, such as another teacher recommendation or report card from the first semester of the senior year. While most appeals are not successful, students who can present compelling new information sometimes benefit from the formal request to be reconsidered.


Who should appeal?


As unfair as the admissions process may seem at times, most colleges are very thorough in their evaluation of candidates. That’s why the few appeals that are successful usually bring to light new information that was not available to the college when they were reviewing your application. For example, if your 7th semester grades were a dramatic improvement over your previous grades, or your club that you started raised a large amount of money for a charity event you planned, or the new internship you just secured happens to be in the field you plan on majoring in, these are things that can be taken into account when reconsidering your application. Students who do not have new information to share have a very difficult time presenting a compelling case for an appeal to be accepted.


Some students want to appeal a decision because they simply believe they are stronger applicants than other students from their school who were admitted. Unfortunately, while the fact that these students were admitted and you were denied may frustrate you, the colleges will not consider this a valid reason to overturn their original decision. It’s important not to criticize the decisions that were made in favor of other applications. Keep your tone positive and focus on what you have accomplished since you applied. Do not compare yourself to other applicants who were admitted.


How-to appeal


1. Carefully read the decision letter the college sent you, and research the admissions section of the college’s website to see if any information about appealing decisions is provided. Some colleges will come right out and tell you that they do not accept appeal requests. Other colleges will not only tell you that they accept appeals, but will also tell you exactly what to do in order to appeal the decision. Follow all instructions the college provides. And if any of their instructions seem to contradict what you read in this guideline, do whatever the college tells you to do.


2. Write a letter as soon as possible explaining why you want the admissions committee to reconsider your application for admission. Be polite and respectful, and make sure to present new information; don’t just rehash what was in your application. Time is of the essence when it comes to appealing, so don’t wait to do this.


3. If the college indicates that extra letters of recommendation will be accepted in appeals cases, consider asking teacher to write a letter of recommendation (a different teacher than you used before). However, you should only do this if you feel this teacher will be able to present new and compelling information. For example, if you recently rose your grade dramatically, excelled in a class project, or received an academic award for your work in a particular teacher’s class; it might be worth asking that teacher to write a letter for you.


4. If invited to do so by the college, consider submitting recent paper or project you have completed in your senior year. If you will be submitting a paper or project, make sure you reference it in your letter, and make sure to explain.


5. Send all of these materials in one envelope to the admissions office.


Final thoughts on appeals:


We know it’s disappointing not to be accepted to a school you really wanted to attend, and we understand why you might decide to try an appeal. But we want you to be excited about whatever college you ultimately attend, so we feel compelled to say that the very best thing you could do while you’re waiting for your appeal decision is to start falling in love with one of your other colleges that said, “Yes.” Visit those schools again. Buy a sweatshirt. Start imagining yourself there. You’ll feel much more positive and encouraged by focusing on great school that admitted you, rather than lamenting the decision of one who said, “No.” And remember that the vast majority of college freshmen report that they are happy with their college experience, even those students who were not admitted to schools that were their first choice at the time.