Waitlisted vs. Deferred in the College Admissions Process: What It Means

No matter your child’s academic credentials, you should always prepare to face any of the possible outcomes of the college admissions process.

The system is no longer as simple as “Accepted” or “Rejected.”

Every year it seems more and more prospective collegians get stuck in one of the admissions grey areas.

Words like “deferred” and “waitlisted” can be confusing and frustrating, but understanding what they mean and how they work is the best way to contend with and conquer these necessary evils.

– Scott

Waitlisted vs. Deferred

The most obvious thing that being waitlisted and being deferred have in common is that neither was the answer you were hoping for.

At the same time, neither is a death sentence for your college aspirations.

Remind yourself that this is not a rejection. Your best bet is to arm yourself with knowledge and make the best out of a difficult situation.

While both of these results leave your child in a form of limbo, they are actually different outcomes used for different reasons.

A deferral can be used in a wide variety of scenarios.

It is most commonly utilized during the early admissions process, but it is also used for regular decision candidates and rolling admissions.

Whenever you receive a deferral, however, it simply means that the final decision on the application is being pushed back for one reason or another.

If your child’s Early Action (non-binding) or Early Decision (binding) application was deferred, than it means they have been pushed into the regular decision pool of candidates.

This usually occurs because the applicant was a quality candidate on the bubble who just didn’t quite make the cut (if your application wasn’t good enough they would simply reject it).

Regular Decision or rolling admission deferrals usually mean that the institution wants to see more information on a prospective student before they make a final decision (i.e. new test scores or senior year grades).

Since either way your application will be reviewed again, this leaves you some control over your fate. You can take the opportunity to wow the admissions committee with some new achievements or experience like an internship or volunteer work.

Just be sure you avoid trying to hype yourself up with exaggerated references and don’t bombard or badger the committee; that’s a fast track to rejection.

The waitlist is an even less appealing prospect.

Essentially, the goal of most collegiate institutions is to fill every available spot with the best possible candidates to create a well-rounded freshman class each year.

Many schools are also looking to fill certain quotas based on factors ranging from race and gender to extracurricular activities and choice of majors.

But, as more high-quality students begin to shop around and send in applications to a greater number of schools, colleges are increasingly unable to predict how their incoming classes will turn out.

In effect, the waitlist is a university’s “Plan B.”

If a college accepts a top-prospect but they enroll at another school, than the admissions committee would like to have another excellent candidate waiting in the wings to fill that empty spot.

This is when they turn to their waitlist.

If your child has been waitlisted it means that the school is most likely done reviewing their application… and they’ve been placed on a list of applicants that can number in the thousands depending on how big the school is.

They haven’t been rejected and the college can choose to accept them at any time, but you have little or no control over the decision since the admissions committee usually won’t review the application again.

Nonetheless, it won’t hurt to do what deferred candidates do: reaffirm your interest in the college, submit concrete resume boosters like higher test scores, and don’t become a pest.

Usually, the college will tell you your position on the list, with number 1 being the first waitlisted student accepted and so on. They also include how many waitlist acceptances they’ve made in the past so you can weigh your chances.

Students who are accepted off the waitlist are generally a low percentage (average of 34% in 2009), especially at high-demand top ranked universities.

We’re not saying it can’t happen, but you should definitely prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

And always keep in mind, whether you are deferred or waitlisted, it will do you no good to get discouraged. Be proactive and don’t give up!

To Your Family’s Successful College Search,

Scott Weingold

Co-Founder, College Planning Network, LLC

College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of the College Planning Network, LLC

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by CollegeStats.org.  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News, TheStreet.com, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.