12/31/2012 02:34 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2013

Early Applications. Bad News: You Were Deferred. Good News: You Weren't Denied!

By now, most students who applied Early Action, Restricted Early Action or Early Decision to a college have heard back from them. The outcome of any early application is acceptance, deferral or denial. Congratulations if you have been accepted! Condolences if you have been denied. If you have been deferred, that's actually good news because it means that an admissions office has decided to postpone making a decision about your application until the regular admission cycle.

Many top students get deferred; often it's difficult to know exactly why. Remember, early acceptance pools are usually full of legacies (relatives of alumni), athletes, and super-star applicants. While common wisdom is that the chances of turning a deferral into an acceptance are slim, my experience has been quite different. I have worked with any number of students who were able to do it.

What You Can Do To Turn A Deferral Into An Acceptance?

Here is a list of steps they took, that you can follow:

1. If the college that deferred you included a card that asks if you want to continue being considered in the regular admissions process, complete that card and send it off immediately.

2. The first week after Christmas/New Years vacation contact your high school college counselor to let him/her know about your deferral and that you are disappointed, but continue to have a strong interest in the college. Tell the counselor you'd like to speak with him/her about what can be done to increase your chances for getting accepted.

3. Ask the school counselor to call the admissions representative for your school to ask if there is anything specific that the college recommends that you do to stand out in the next admissions round.

+ Ask him/her to inquire about any aspects of your overall credentials that would be target areas for improvement or explanation between now and the end of first semester. Is there anything missing from your application? Do you need better grades? Should you try for higher SAT, ACT or Subject Test scores? Should you let the college know about your learning issues and how they affect both your grades and test scores?

+ Find out if there is any place where you could put in some extra work or activities to enhance the original application.

You should know that some counselors are quite willing to do this, but others are not. If the latter is the case, then call the college's admissions office yourself to ask those questions. Also, some admissions offices are helpful in providing feedback about deferrals; many are not.

4. Ace your finals! Nothing will help your admissions more than sending in new, fabulous grades for first semester.

5. After you get your first semester grades, send a letter to the college rep for your school (and/or the Dean of Admissions) detailing any new information as of your turning in the original application. Include new honors, awards, activities, accomplishments, even summer plans. Include a copy of an updated activities resume.

6. Have additional letters of recommendation sent by people who know you well and will totally sing your praises.

7. If you or your parents know faculty, administration or distinguished alumni from the college from which you were deferred, now is the time to go to them and ask if they have any suggestions for you. Often the answer is that they will make a call or write a letter for you. That's what you want to hear.

In the meantime, it's very important that you stay positive about the whole admissions process and focus on putting together the best applications you can for the other colleges to which you are applying. Don't worry; deferred students usually get accepted at a number of other schools and end up being very happy with the school they choose in the end.

Have a Happy New Year, and good luck!