Status update. Just as the clock strikes 7, the blue “Status Update” button appears. Students across the country quivered with anticipation; their whole lives were about to change. (Shivani Murugapiran)
Status update. Just as the clock strikes 7, the blue “Status Update” button appears. Students across the country quivered with anticipation; their whole lives were about to change.

Shivani Murugapiran

College Applications: a Guide to Dealing with Deferral

January 21, 2022

My palms sweat, and my feet shake rapidly. My heart thumps erratically under the weight of the moment. In 12 seconds, the message on the screen will seal my fate. In 11 seconds, my life would change.

“View Status Update.”

I click the button, my fingers trembling.

I immediately sink. There is no confetti, no colorful video, no “Congratulations” written in blue bold. My eyes well with water. My dad ticks his lips together and sighs; my mom grips my shoulder in support.

They deferred me, propelling my very existence into that odd middle ground between getting rejected and accepted.

Whenever you receive a deferral instead of an acceptance, part of you feels like you have failed, like you have done something wrong, like somehow you are unworthy of what you have accomplished. But that is entirely wrong.

Brian William Koppelman – a famous author, producer, and showrunner – was deferred himself. Interestingly enough, Koppelman did get admission into and graduate from Tufts University. That gives me hope, as it should you. Sometimes, with the power of human resolve in itself, our dreams are fulfilled.

But to set the stage for this post-deferral victory, we must handle the situation swiftly and systematically.

Step 1: Cry

Let it out. There is no point in keeping that feeling bottled up inside you. Sob uncontrollably if you need to. At this point, you will start to pinpoint moments in your life where you could have worked harder or could have done something differently. Stop, and allow yourself to grieve for what could have been and what could be. To many, this may seem dramatic. But to others, the feeling of having worked your entire life for something only to have it dragged out of reach is nothing short of torturous.

Step 2: Relax

Put on your favorite show, listen to some music, or watch a movie. When I received my deferral, I needed some food and a pep talk – preferably a milkshake, burger, and some onion rings. So at around 9 pm on that very night, my mom and I went to Grub Burger. But this all depends on your comfort zone. Personally, I was ready to analyze the situation and break apart any implications.

If that is something that you are not ready for, let the relaxation phase simmer for longer. Read a book, bake some cookies, and have some alone time. If you are comfortable, you can also hang out with friends and count on them to distract you from what happened. The most important part of the relaxation step is to detach from the incident. Following a deferral, you may feel disappointed or emotional. These are not states in which you should engage in deeper reflection.

Step 3: Reflect

The following day after your relaxing evening, if you are no longer highly emotional or numb, you can begin the reflection step.

While reflecting, consider that college is a business. In applying to a job, even if you are an incredibly accomplished individual, if your skillset does not match the job description or the requirements for that position, they will not hire you. Universities evaluate students the same way – it may bottle down to “fit.” Maybe they already have many South Asians who like to write; perhaps they need South Asians studying French. Maybe they are looking for a different demographic of wealth, citizenship, or set of extracurricular activities. These measures, unfortunately, are extremely unpredictable and could be why someone gets into Harvard but is rejected from UC Irvine or deferred from Georgia Tech and admitted to Yale.

There are several Reddit conversations around this elusive phenomenon. One, in particular, told the story of stats and extracurriculars of an individual who got accepted to Harvard but rejected from UCLA. After extensive scouring of data, one thing remains clear: this is not uncommon.

Schools may have different institutional priorities (i.e., one school is looking for top science students and one school is looking for strong theatrical performers) which can lead to different outcomes. In addition, given that most Ivies practice “holistic” review of applications, your essay or entire application may stand out to one admissions office and not another. In general, when acceptance rates are under 10%, almost any outcome is possible.”

— Tira Harpaz, the Founder of CollegeBound Advice

Sometimes, however, a college’s unfortunate decision regarding your application is something of your own making. Suppose your university’s average SAT is drastically higher than yours. In that case, if it is highly selective compared to your grades and portfolio, you might have to acknowledge that your result is okay because your statistics did not meet the school’s standards. Though it may be upsetting, do not be unrealistically hard on yourself.

Step 4: Forgive and Look Beyond

At the end of the day, high school is just a stepping stone to the future. Some of us might have made some great memories at the expense of getting perfect grades and honing an impressive extracurricular portfolio. Some of us may have spent more time doing the latter than building those memorable moments.

Swetha Pendela, a current senior at South, shares her perspective on this topic.

“I think in the county that we live in with the amount of academic competition and rigor that we experience, to some extent, everybody is influenced by college and their future and their life goals,” said Pendela. “They feel that what they do is going to lead them on a successful path. But everything that I’ve taken part in has made me a better leader, made me a better student, and caused me to meet new people, which has also caused me to grow. So at the end of the day, while some things are very stressful or can cause you to feel like maybe it wasn’t the right decision, I don’t regret any of it.”

In pursuit of “doing the right thing” for college, I discovered my deepest passions. I was intellectually stimulated and exposed to new ideas, and thanks in part to Pendela, I have come to shed my regrets. 

Regardless of where we end up, it is our potential and passion that will guide our careers. While we come to terms with a deferral from a dream university, we must remain optimistic. 

When I picked my first choice of university, it was because I fell in love with the campus, its prestige, academic opportunities, and the range of extracurricular activities provided. As a budding entrepreneur, I love how the university encourages new ventures and provides students with resources and guidance.

But perhaps that love is unrequited for right now. Like in any relationship, there will inevitably be someone who falls in love first. Someone who takes the plunge when the other is unsure. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe that a deferral is a sign that you can attend your dream university one day. Give the selection committee some time to consider, send in a letter of continued interest, and reach out to your regional admissions officer.

Most importantly, stay hopeful for the future. 

About the Writers
Shivani Murugapiran, Staff Writer
Shivani Murugapiran is an impassioned staff writer at The Bird Feed. She is currently in 12th grade and has been diagnosed with a serious case of senioritis. She enjoys advocating for educational equity, having created her own nonprofit to provide opportunities for foster children. She also dabbles in writing short stories and poetry, emphasizing literary realism. Shivani is actively involved in her school community as well, presiding as the president of both Girls Who Code and FBLA. Her favorite movie is The Dead Poets Society (she, unashamedly, cries every time). You can contact her at [email protected] or through her twitter @murugapiran.  

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