(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)


Column: Being deferred from my dream school

JJ Hoffman reflects on the mix of emotions felt once he opened his portal for an application update.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/hoffjj/" target="_self">JJ Hoffman</a>

JJ Hoffman

December 14, 2021
What happens to a dream deferred?

I had it all planned out: my early decision would be released at 3:21 p.m., but I would wait out the 19 minutes until 3:40 p.m. when my English class was dismissed. I would sit outside on the concrete benches, watching students and teachers walk to their lockers or offices as I opened my admissions decision.

I would fast-walk to the senior patio and eagerly tell my friends. I would update my Instagram bio to include the class of 2026. I would be done with the college admissions process. I would be happy. I envisioned all of my years of hard work in high school culminating up to this point, intense music rising in my ears as I log into my portal and click the “View Update,” and then…

Well, I didn’t plan for how I would feel if I didn’t get in. Even though the college had less than a 20 percent acceptance rate and I understood the odds, there is always that slim sliver of hope that persists. I read somewhere that it’s the reason why you submit your application: because no matter how likely you think you are to get in somewhere, the simple act of submitting your application instills hope in you that you might get in. 

But I was deferred. Once I went into my portal and clicked the status update, my heart dropped as I didn’t receive the confetti I had hoped for and instead found myself reading a cold letter, barely picking up the words “defer you to our regular admission” and “final decision in March.”

I was heartbroken.

While I realize that awards and acceptances aren’t everything, I found myself back where I was earlier this year, when I did not receive an invitation to join the Cum Laude society. It felt like my hard work did not pay off, and I simply wasn’t doing enough. It completely invalidated my intuition that I was succeeding in high school.

All of the AP computer science, history and chemistry classes I struggled with and the countless hours I spent emailing and meeting with teachers didn’t mean anything. And, the essays I wrote, too, didn’t garner a response from the college other than mere, impersonal four-short-paragraphs. It hurts, when a college you envision yourself at, suddenly rejects you

Leading up to that fateful day, I would watch campus tours and look at their Instagram pictures, and fully see myself there. I would see myself walking to the library or a coffee shop nearby. I would see myself throwing snowballs or traveling to a nearby city with my new friends.

I looked at pictures of students’ dorms, wondering who my roommate might be. But when I opened that decision letter, all of those visions met a harsh reality and came crashing to the floor. To add insult to injury, all around me people were applauding their friends as they got into their top choices, and I had to pretend that I was okay with being deferred. 

As I glossed over the typical phrases, “This is not an assessment of your application…” which I have seen in countless TikToks, I found myself remembering a rather sobering fact: According to “college research and decision platform” Cappex, with an increase in applications, admissions officers spend about five minutes reading an application.

How could my months of research, drafting, re-drafting, writing, filling out additional questions, interviews, be summed up in five minutes?

It no longer mattered how much work I put into my application: if it wasn’t engaging enough compared to the others — and likely it wasn’t — then it would be tossed into a deferral or rejection pile. 

I let my disappointment that evening get the best of me. I drove home from school upset and impatient. I didn’t speak much to my parents and went on a short-lived, 15-minute hunger strike. Ignoring texts from my siblings, I needed time to process this.

The college application process has become so convoluted and unnecessarily loaded with emotion that it takes a much greater toll on one than it should. I want to remind my fellow high schoolers of something that my physics teacher once said: ‘”Everything happens for a reason.”

As I come to terms with my deferral, which I know is not the worst-case scenario, but definitely feels like it is, it is important to acknowledge that it does hurt, and to not push that feeling away. I do feel defeated. I do feel incredibly disappointed. 

Last year in December, my family was telling me “In a year from now, you might know where you’ll be going to college!” But now I have to live with the uncertainty, the painful reality that I still have not been admitted to any colleges, and next year I don’t know where I will be.

And as tough as it is, I realize that it is a lesson for life: often, we don’t know where we will be in five years or what we’ll be doing. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and ultimately we have to be okay with it and waiting because no matter how much effort you put into your application, there are always factors you cannot control.

And though it might seem like not everything will work out, chances are you’ll figure it all out.

There’s this good article that Dan Milaschewski, Harvard Class of 2017 wrote. Dan was deferred and accepted in Regular Decision. Though the article isn’t much, I found it to be helpful in coping with the deferral and waiting until March.