You got deferred? What does that mean? “Deferred” is one of three responses students may receive when they apply to a college through an Early Admissions program, submitting applications in mid-October through mid-November; Early Decision (binding) or Early Action (nonbinding). The other two responses are just what you’d expect: accepted or denied.

A deferral generally means that the college “likes you,” but it doesn’t “love you.” If tit loved you, it would have accepted you. If you were deferred, your application will be reconsidered with all of the students who applied by the college’s regular decision date, generally about Jan. 1.

At some colleges, deferrals are plentiful; very few students are accepted and very few are denied in their early admissions programs. In this case, a college is saving a large percentage of its class for the regular decision pool and you have a reasonably good chance of being accepted. Other colleges accept over 50 percent of their freshman class with their early applicants and fill in what’s left with “new” students who applied regular decision, i.e., not many of the reconsidered applicants get accepted.

According to the recent annual report of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), “72 percent of colleges with early action options reported increased applications for fall 2010, with only 38 percent reporting increases in acceptances.” The early action and early decision applicant pool is generally stronger than the regular applicant pool, so while there may be a higher acceptance percentage for students who apply early, it is also more competitive.

For a variety of reasons, students are increasing the size of their college lists each year. According to NACAC, 77 percent of fall 2010 freshmen submitted three or more applications, and 25 percent submitted seven or more applications. Here are some stats on this year’s high school seniors: Early applications increased by 5.5 percent at Brown University, 23 percent at Duke and 25 percent at the University of Chicago. UNC Chapel Hill joined the Common Application for the first time this year, and its applications increased 23 percent, from 23,753 last year to 29,211 this year. The freshman class size isn’t expected to change much, so the university will probably reject more students.

The increase in deferrals is a reflection of uncertainty in the admissions office. With such large increases in the number of applications each student submits, colleges are having a much more challenging time determining how many will accept their offer of admission and choose to enroll.

Next: How to respond to a deferral.

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