The Difference Between Deferred and Waitlisted

Student reading college letter.
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Understanding college admissions requires a couple of vocabulary words that may appear in letters you receive from admissions committees. A letter will be straightforward if the university decides to accept or reject your application outright. In some circumstances, though, the admissions committee places your application in a state of enrollment limbo, classifying you as either "waitlisted" or "deferred."

1 What Is the Waitlist?

When a university decides not to admit you right away, it may send a letter asking whether or not you wish to be added to its waitlist. The waitlist becomes relevant when fewer admitted students enroll than expected, and the admissions committee must use the waitlist to round out its incoming class. This usually happens after May 1, the deadline for admitted students to declare their intentions.

2 Being Waitlisted

If you wish to be on the university waitlist, you must fill out the waitlist form provided by the university and pay its designated waitlist fee, usually a few hundred dollars. The higher your name on the waitlist, the higher your chances of admission. But since the admissions committee will not disclose your placement on the waitlist, nor will it tell you how many other students are on the list, paying the fee is a gamble. According to the "New York Times," Boston University accepted just 57 of its 2,610 waitlisted applicants for the class of 2016. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan accepted just 74 of its 13,615 waitlisted applicants and Stanford rejected all of its 789 waitlisted applicants.

3 Early Enrollment Deferral

The only way to receive a deferral letter is to apply for either early decision or early action. Both early decision and early action applicants meet an early enrollment deadline in exchange for an early decision. In the case of early decision, you must commit to attend the university upon admittance. As an early action candidate, however, you make no such commitment and may go wherever you choose. In either case, a deferral letter means the admissions committee did not come to a decision and needs more time. When you receive an early decision or early action deferral, this means you will receive your answer near the beginning of April along with regular deadline applicants. If deferred as an early decision applicant, your agreement to attend the university if admitted no longer stands, and you won't be penalized for going elsewhere.

4 Deferring Until the Next Year

In some circumstances, you may request a deferral yourself. This happens when you decide to put off, or defer, your enrollment at the university for a year. You may opt to do this to take a gap year between high school and college. When you do this, you must alert the admissions committee to your decision and let them know you plan to enroll the following year. Students admitted during both the early applicant process and the regular admissions schedule usually have the option to defer. Students deferred by the university and admitted on the regular admissions schedule usually have this option as well, though waitlisted students who receive late acceptance letters may not.

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.