What to do if You’re Deferred by Rice

The Early Decision submission deadline just passed, and thousands of students now have to wait eagerly to hear back from their first-choice schools. While we recommend you spend your time completing essays for your regular decision schools, many students instead find themselves overwhelmed by worry. What if your top choice school doesn’t let you in?

While applying ED does increase your chances of admission, it is still far from a sure thing at highly competitive schools like Rice. Besides being admitted, you can be waitlisted, rejected outright, or deferred. While many students feel that anything less than an acceptance is the end of their college dream, we’re here to tell you there’s more you can do. If you are deferred by Rice (or anywhere else), there’s still options for you to increase your chances of eventual acceptance.

In this article we’ll discuss what deferment is, why it happens, and what you can do about it.

What is Deferment?

Not all students who apply ED can be accepted. Some are rejected outright, and some are placed on the waitlist. Some applications are intriguing, but are not compelling enough to admit immediately. These applications are deferred, and are reconsidered alongside the regular decision applications.

Having your application deferred means that you are qualified to attend the college, but admissions officers still have some hesitations about your candidacy. These can come from many places, and depend on your individual application. Concerns can come from a low grade, or your test scores, or simply with your potential “fit” with the school.

Unfortunately, schools don’t tell you why you were deferred rather than accepted. Indeed, sometimes there isn’t a single solid reason; they just want to see who else applies during regular decision before admitting you, or they already reached their quota for ED admissions.

Rice admitted around 470 students ED during the last admissions cycle, and 2,600 RD. Only around 1,200 students total ended up enrolling at Rice. Since ED applicants are bound to attend the school, they are more prized, but also treated more selectively. A quarter of the students enrolled at Rice last year were admitted ED, even though they made up a far smaller percentage of the total number of students admitted. 

Schools rely on this disconnect between the number of students admitted and the number who end up enrolling. While they can’t always predict it exactly, they’ve gotten quite good. If they enroll too few, they have seats left empty. Too many, and they run out of space for students. Because ED students are bound to attend, schools limit the number they admit.

You’ve Been Deferred - Now What?

Now that we’ve covered why deferment happens generally, you need to figure out why it happened to you. This will be different for each student, as each application is different, and each school is looking for different things. We’ll use Rice as an example, because we are well familiar with what they want.

First, you should go through your application, and see what admissions officers may have had doubts about. Compare your grades and test scores to Rice’s averages. If either is below their average accepted, but still high enough to be competitive, this could have caused your deferment. 

If your grades and test scores are at or above average, then the concerns likely stemmed from your extracurriculars or essays. Rice is looking to see your passion and commitment in your extracurriculars, to see what you have dedicated yourself to. Rice further asks for three essays, asking why you are interested in your major, why you want to attend Rice, and what perspectives you will contribute to the community on campus.

Once you have determined where a potential weakness is, you can figure out how to ameliorate it. The best way we have found to do this is with a letter updating the school on your progress and achievements since your application was sent in.

Writing Updated Letters

These letters serve two purposes. The first is to indicate to the school that you are still interested in attending, and still view them as your first choice. The second is to update them on your accomplishments, especially in areas your application may have had shortcomings in before.

Because ED applications are due before you get official grades for senior year, students can bring up their GPA slightly, and demonstrate improved academic performance. Even if low grades were not an issue with your application, demonstrating continued academic achievement in challenging classes is valuable.

If you don’t have the test scores you would like, you can also retake any standardized tests, and relay improved scores through this letter. This is often less important than grades, but depending on your individual circumstances, can still be a valuable inclusion.

Finally, if you have any notable accomplishments in your extracurriculars, you should discuss these. What counts as notable will vary greatly, but generally winning major competitions, getting outside acknowledgement, landing a starring role in a show, or other achievements which demonstrate your abilities, passion, and accomplishments should be relayed. For Rice especially, your extracurricular achievements should demonstrate how you will contribute to the broader community and campus culture at the school.

Every letter should also inform the school that you still are interested in attending, and view them as your first choice. To give you a better sense of what one of these letters should look like, we’ll give you an example from one here.

Letter Examples and Analysis

Selections from a letter are below, along with analysis on what makes this letter successful, and what makes a school reconsider admissions for a deferred student.

Since first applying, I have continued to be a member of Congressman Pete Olson’s Academy, where I have conducted financial research and worked with a team of five to craft a consumer protection bill focused on subprime lending.  Over the past month, my group and I have edited and revised the bill extensively, in order to construct a payment plan that would help keep borrowers on track. I am the group researcher, a position that has required me to research payment options and design the core monthly payment my group has created. In early April, my team and I will present our bill to congressman Pete Olson, who may then deliver a version of our bill in Congress. If passed, our bill could help many people make payments on time and avoid late fees.

This paragraph updates admissions on what the student has been doing in an extracurricular. If you did not demonstrate passion and drive for their extracurriculars, then updating the admissions department on further and deeper commitment demonstrates those qualities anew.

Looking forward, I hope to bring these leadership skills to Rice. As an aspiring entrepreneurship student, meanwhile, I look forward to taking advantage of opportunities like the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship or courses like Financing the Startup. Over the past few months, I have myself entered the world of investing – first trading stocks on major companies with a proven track-record, then transitioning to medical companies focused on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Researching various companies these past months has paved the way for the kind academic and extracurricular success I know I can bring to Rice this Fall. Rice is where my courses, peers, and extracurricular opportunities – in other words, the entire university – will offer me the opportunities I need to succeed as both a citizen and business person.

This paragraph ties the student to Rice, and shows that they are deeply invested in attending. Everyone likes to feel wanted, and demonstrating interest in a school by explicitly stating why you want to go there, professors you want to study with, and programs you want to be involved with shows the admissions officers how committed you are to their institution. Being specific is key here, don’t use vague phrases which could apply to any school, instead focus on the one school in particular you are addressing. 

You should have already done this in your essay about why you wish to attend Rice, but any shortcomings in that essay can be made up for here.Similarly, if you failed to properly convey how you would contribute to Rice’s community in your essays, you can make up some of that ground here. This letter is not an additional essay, and should not be treated as such, but it is a good place to close any gaps left by your essays.

Final Thoughts

Applying to a college ED does raise your chances os acceptance, but with schools as competitive as Rice, there’s no such thing as guaranteed. However, getting deferred does not mean the end of your collegiate ambitions, or your chances of attending your dream school. You should, however, apply to other schools alongside sending a letter like this. Always expect the best, but prepare for the worse; that way you’re ok no matter what.

Applying to colleges is stressful. Applying early is a good way to relieve some of that stress, but can introduce new stressors as well. If you want help with your applications, or writing one of these letters, schedule a free consultation with us. We have a long experience helping students get into their top schools, and are always happy to hear from you.

Wendy Y.
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