Business Schools Just Say "No" To Deferrals

MBA admissions
An article on BusinessWeek.com yesterday described business schools’ increasing reluctance to hand out admissions deferrals these days. In a climate where some students have a harder time securing loans and others are unable to sell their houses in order to relocate for school, this could put some newly admitted applicants in a tough spot.

In a given year, many top schools hand out dozens of deferrals. Students may ask for all sorts of reasons — big changes at home, a newly earned promotion, or a financial picture that will change next year — and schools will usually at least consider such requests. However, with all of the uncertainty in today’s market, schools are unwilling to layer on one more level of complexity in managing a deferrals list.


Many admissions officers interviewed for the article said they plan to offer fewer deferrals this admissions season, and some even plan on scaling this number down further next year, to the point where they’ll offer no deferrals at all. This comes as these same schools report that the number of deferral requests are on the rise.

Interestingly, the reason for such requests seems to be changing: While many requests tend to come from applicants who hope to “shop around” and try to get into other schools, now the decision driving deferral requests seems to be whether applicants want to drop out of the workforce and pursue an MBA at all. Meanwhile, the schools, having seen their applicant pools become noticeably more and more qualified each year, are reluctant to grant deferrals knowing that they may have even stronger applications to choose among next year.

While MBA admissions officers explain that it’s difficult to defer an applicant who was admitted to this year’s class, since he may not fit into next year’s class, we believe that (as is often the case) yield management at least partly drives this decision. Yield rates for deferred admits are below 50% at some top schools. Clearly, schools see a deferral request as at least a weak signal that you may not end up matriculating, making them less likely to play along?

What does this mean for you? As always, you should only apply to schools which you actually want to attend. A “safety school” isn’t so safe if you don’t want to go there, so only apply if you can see yourself at that school. However, if you are admitted to a great school and have a truly legitimate reason for not being able to matriculate this year, it never hurts to pick up the phone and explain your circumstances. The worst the school can say is “no,” and they may even give you a little more time to decide. They will never take away your acceptance offer, so there’s not much downside in asking. Just know that you’re not likely to get a “yes” unless you have a real reason for requesting a deferral.

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