Waitlisted vs. Deferred – What’s the difference?

This article will explain everything you need to know about “being waitlisted”, and “being deferred” in the format of ” Waitlisted vs. Deferred“. So read on.

Waiting for an answer to a college or university application can seem like forever, particularly after all the strenuous and tiring work of putting together an application.

Most applicants are of the mindset that eventually, an outcome will be either an acceptance or a rejection; though, other possible outcomes could emanate from an application process.

Outcomes such as “being waitlisted” or “deferred” could be possible. What these varying outcomes mean and their concern to you is based on several factors discussed in this article. Stay glued.  

Waitlisted vs. Deferred

Whatever difference “waitlists” and “deferrals” may possess, it is noteworthy that they both share similarities. Being waitlisted or deferred doesn’t outrightly mean you have been rejected but instead means you have to wait a bit longer to see if you will be admitted.  

Fortunately for the process, the college application is something most people go through just once. However, this also shows that the process is new and not well-known and could get confusing along the line.

Thus, let’s get to understand what both terms mean.

What does it mean to be “Deferred” in College Admission?

“Being deferred” can mean different things. In many situations, the college is still undergoing the process of reviewing your application and is, in other words postponing or delaying their decision to a later date. Deferrals generally fall under two categories.

Deferral could either be an outcome of an early decision or early action college application. It falls in between acceptance and denial.

Fundamentally, it means that evaluation is being carried out on your application alongside regular decision applicants by the admissions officer.

Once you join the regular decision category, your application converts from an early decision application to a regular decision application.

This could also mean that if you receive an offer later on (could occur with the early decision), you’re no longer in agreement to go to that college.

The above also implies that you won’t have your decided answer until your regular decision counterparts applied, which is usually in March.

Waitlisted vs. Deferred

What does it mean to be “Waitlisted” in College Admission?

Unlike being “deferred,” evaluation and reviewing your college file have been completed, and a decision to put you on a waiting list has been made.

In the regular decision process, you receive the news of you being on the waitlist, which implies that there is still an interest for you; there’s no available spot to slot you in. 

In addition, it further implies that if other students admitted choose not to accept their admission; you get to fill in the slot. Being waitlisted isn’t the same as rejection; it simply means you will need to exercise a bit of patience to see if you will be admitted.  

Read this: Most Useless Degrees you won’t even believe

Waitlisted vs. Deferred

Difference Between Waitlists and Deferrals

Due to deferrals being part of the regular application decision process, they are usually sent in March.

However, the reverse is the case of waitlists; because of the frustrating nature of waitlists, most times, you don’t get to hear from them to know if you’re off the list until after responses to colleges are due in May. 

In other words, commitment to another college may be needed before getting a response on whether you’ll be off the waitlist! Afterward, you may likely lose your slot if you decide to switch back to the school that waitlisted you.

Waitlisted vs. Deferred

Similarities in Being Waitlisted or Deferred:

Being on the waitlist is more or less like the regular decision, equivalent to an early decision or early action deferrals.

Both the waitlists and deferrals could deny one the celebration of an acceptance without an outright rejection; it still doesn’t mean rejection but rather indicates the opening of the door for a potential acceptance in the future. 

Confirmation that you intend to accept your spot on the list must be submitted to the college if you are on the waitlist. Afterward, a letter of continued interest can be written, which could prove valuable in both cases.

This letter indicates that you’re still interested in the college and provides an opportunity for you to market yourself again and prove to the college that you will improve their yield rate if you get accepted.

What To Do If Deferred or Waitlisted?

If you’re a student that has been deferred or waitlisted; here’s what to do:


This is the period where you need to pause and take a deep breath. Before indulging in anything, you are encouraged to set out time for reflection.

You need to ask yourself certain questions, of which one is finding out if the school is still your first choice. If it still is, don’t be hesitant to move forward. However, if it’s not, that’s still fine. 

It is best to find another school if it has been a while you first applied or you no longer feel committed or interested in the school again.

Read this: Academic Interests: How to quickly develop one (Fast)

Expression of Interest: 

In the case of being waitlisted, automatic placement on the waitlist doesn’t just happen; you will have to indicate interest for a spot to be reserved for you. 

However, in the case of deferrals, most institutions will ask you to indicate interest in being considered in their regular decision process. In most cases, this involves completing a simple card and sending it right back through the mail. 

Also, you are encouraged to improve on your grades and complete each semester gracefully. Maintain connections and send in additional information; this shows a strong expression of continued interest.

At the same time, on a waitlist, decide on the school you would like to attend and accept an offer. Concentrate on the school you’ve been accepted to rather than the school you’ve been waitlisted for.

Waitlisted vs. Deferred


Conclusively, whether you are deferred or waitlisted, it is advisable to push away the temptation to send in recommendation letters and make phone calls to the admissions department.

Most times, this action can harm your chances of getting admitted.

Some institutions make it clear in their letters that they do not take any recommendation letters or phone calls on behalf of the student. 

Generally, if the need for more materials arises, the admissions office is mainly interested in intangible information such as (test scores and grades) rather than recommendations or personal testimonies.

Note that being waitlisted or deferred doesn’t mean admission denial. It is synonymous with being asked to stay in the waiting room a bit longer, pending the time a decision will be made. 

During this period, use the time wisely and judiciously. Try to make room for improvement pertaining to your grades or test scores, and if your performance is good, do not relent on it. 

No doubt, being waitlisted or deferred can get frustrating, but dears, it doesn’t mean the world has come to an end, neither is your college search. At this point, do not lose hope but instead ensure to have other plans with another institution.

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Stella-maris Achumba
Stella-maris Achumba

Hello, I am Stella-maris! For two years, I began actively assisting students in the United States, and Canada in their pursuit of college advice and scholarship prospects. I am a content writer at www.schoolandtravel.com.

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