What to Do When You're Deferred from Your Top Choice School

Learn how to not only demonstrate that you’re still interested in attending your early app school, but also convince admissions officers that they missed a crucial part of your admissions profile and that you’d be a perfect fit for their community.


2021 Update: The 2021 admissions cycle is well underway, which means that some of you may have been deferred from your top choice schools. Whether you have recently been deferred or whether you are waitlisted down the line, you should know that this is meant to be an active process. The students who are most successful in gaining admission in the second or third waves are those who work for it. So what exactly does that mean? Below is our article on writing a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI), which was originally published on our blog and Reddit around this time last year. But before you read on, I want to take a moment to specifically address the 2021 landscape for admissions. 

Deferrals in the age of pandemic 

As you already know, this was a strange and difficult year for admissions due to school lockdowns, test-blind/test-optional policies, and the general chaos of an unprecedented global health crisis. Already, schools were receiving incredible volumes of applications, but this year they were met with the added challenge of reviewing applications one by one in cases where test scores would have been used liberally in the past. Moreover, there has been discussion of what the pandemic might do to enrollment when accounting for potentially fewer foreign students, students who took gap years, students who might plan to take a gap year until circumstances improve, and students who will be negatively financially affected and will thus require greater aid. So what does this mean for admissions offices? 

First, schools are always looking for a sure thing. Although EA and ED application rates reached incredible new highs (sources say MIT alone experienced 60%+ more EA applications this year versus last year), schools are still keen to admit students who they are sure will attend, if admitted. This is reiterated as some schools, like Carnegie Mellon and Johns Hopkins, are actively promoting ED2  in an attempt to attract even more “sure thing” students. Second, based on these numbers, we know that many more students were deferred than in past years based on sheer volume of applications alone. 

Based on these factors, here is our take-away: If you were deferred from your top choice school and you are still sure that you want to attend, if admitted, it is very important that you make this known to the admissions office. Enthusiasm, now more than ever, will reassure the admissions office that you are a “sure thing” and make you more likely to be admitted compared to a student with similar specs who does nothing to follow up. In other words, everything in the below paragraphs is even more important to follow through on this year!

Okay, now without further ado, here’s the original article:

Getting deferred from an early reach school can be heartbreaking. The school is oftentimes your dream school, which puts you in a tough admissions limbo. Maybe you feel like you reached too high, but remember that you create a college list for exactly this reason. As long you were realistic with your application strategy, you’re going to get into a good school on your list. But let’s not lose hope on your top choice quite yet.

A lot of competitive schools, (like Harvard) don’t make the hard decision to reject a lot of early students, so a deferment doesn’t mean anything but a delay in decision. However, many schools make the difficult decision to reject most early applicants, putting deferred students in a promising pool for regular decision. Caltech is a good example of a school with a great acceptance rate for its deferred candidates when compared to the rest of the regular decision applicant pool. Regardless of what the deferment means, you still have a shot of getting in and you should still pursue that positive admissions outcome.

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The Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI)

The primary piece of information that schools will receive from your school is a Mid-Year Report. This will update them on your grades for the previous semester and form a foundation of how to reassess your application. But at this point, your grades are done and there’s nothing you can do. The main thing you can do to help your chances of getting accepted is to write a letter of continued interest (LOCI).

A LOCI has become so important for the transition from early to regular applicants that many schools are starting to require that a student write one. The content should be about why the student still wants to be considered for admission. The applicant then uploads the letter to their admissions portal. Schools like MIT and Case Western do this. Keep in mind that these schools usually have deadlines for submitting this updated information, so make sure to check the details of each university.

If the school doesn’t have a particular form to fill out or particular guidelines to follow for an update, then how you decide to update them with your LOCI is up to you. As a general rule, mid-late January is a great time to submit a LOCI to the school you were deferred from. For schools with no form or strict guidelines, you can follow this example LOCI that worked for one of my students who got deferred from Penn ED and then accepted for regular decision.

An example LOCI

“Dear (Penn Representative for Region),

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at all disappointed about getting deferred from Penn. However, Penn remains as my top choice and I’m fully committed to attending if accepted in the regular decision.

Since submitting my early application, I’ve had more time to devote to schoolwork and extracurricular activities. As the founder of (App name), an app for (medical purpose), I have been updating the app to provide better features for users, worked on social media marketing, and attempted to secure partnerships with mental health organizations. As the co-president of Habitat for Humanity, I worked to promote World Habitat Day, planned for a domestic trip to Cheonan, South Korea in November, and also made arrangements for an international trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia this upcoming March. As a member of the National Honor Society, I tutored underclassmen and collected donations to buy a gift for an orphanage. Apart from clubs, I dedicated my time toward (name of choir group), a selective choir group, in which I sang carols at Dongguk University Medical Center and the Grand Hyatt. I have also been playing for the varsity basketball team. 

Despite these extracurricular responsibilities, working on college applications, and a difficult course schedule, for the first semester of my senior year I’ve received the best semester GPA of my high school career. I plan to continue this academic success and to improve the clubs that I’m a part of to leave behind thriving groups for underclassmen at (high school name) to inherit and further develop. 

I applied to Penn for Early Decision for a number of reasons. With its emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, I realized that the Science, Technology, and Society (STSC) major is tailor-made for me. Its focus on the social context of how the three fields emerged and how they amalgamate to revolutionize human life immediately attracted me. I also found Penn’s tight-knit community appealing. When I had several questions about the STSC major, I emailed the department chairs Dr. M. Susan Lindee and Dr. Ann Greene and received a response from them within a day. I was surprised because I didn’t get such a warm and timely response from any other university. Dr. M. Susan Lindee and Dr. Ann Greene’s detailed responses to my questions not only gave me deeper insight into the major, but also showed that Penn has genuine student/professor relationships and is home to faculty members that are actually interested in interacting and engaging with their students. In addition, Penn’s Wharton School community has the resources and networking opportunities to develop my interests in social entrepreneurship.

I have continued to honor the commitments I’ve made during this school year and gained newfound confidence in myself through continuing to succeed despite the added responsibilities and rigor of courses. My commitment to accept an invitation to Penn’s (year) class is another commitment that I would proudly honor.


(Student’s name)

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How to write the Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI)

Let’s start with the greeting. Some schools, like Penn, have admissions officers designated for different regions of the US or international students. Instead of just addressing a letter to the “Penn Admissions Office”, always try to find a particular person to address and send your email to.

Next, the introduction. The best LOCI will plainly and immediately say that the school is still your top-choice university. While you may assume that by applying for early decision, it’s clear that the school is your top choice, you want to make clear that you don’t have any hard feelings about not getting accepted early. To make this clear, say something like “Penn is still at the top of my list, and I will not hesitate to attend if accepted.”

If the school you’re writing to is NOT your first-choice school, then don’t claim that it is. It’s dishonest and misrepresents your plans if accepted to that school. You should only tell one school unambiguously that you will attend if accepted. What you can do is leave the door open for interpretation that the school is the top of your list. You can say “Penn remains at the top of my list, and I hope to be given the opportunity to matriculate.”

Beyond the intro, the letter should read as an update on your activities and academics since you submitted your application a few months earlier. This could be specific updates on clubs or organizations that are already on your application or new projects or accomplishments. These updates should still be related, in some way, to your Admissions Angle so that it’s easy for the school to again see your interest in the major/program that you selected. Ideally, you’d have some new award or accomplishment to talk about here, but if not, don’t worry. You can still give crucial context to admissions officers that will help your cause. If you maintained good grades, then highlight the fact that you were able to do so despite added extracurricular responsibility, family problems, taking on a new job, sports commitments, or even just the college application process itself. It’s all about your angle, so make sure to position yourself correctly.

After updates, your letter should reaffirm that this school is the right fit for you. If you already wrote a “why us” essay for the school, you can reiterate some of your points there or go even further in your research to really show how you’re a good fit. Some of my students will contact professors at the universities to find out more details about the department they’re applying to and then use those details for their (LOCI). These details will make sure that your letter doesn’t look like some cookie-cutter response.

A LOCI is imperative in giving you another shot at acceptance to your early application schools. But don’t neglect the rest of your college list and your other undergraduate options. There are many things you can do to improve your chances of acceptance for your regular decision schools as well. Read about them here.

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