Guide to Deferring Your College Acceptance

What’s Covered:

 

The best thing about a gap year is that it is completely and totally flexible. Some students participate in gap year programs where they travel the world with other ‘gappers.’ Other students work domestically to save up money. And others participate independently in work exchange programs abroad. Personally, I combined a few of these approaches in my three-step gap year.

 

Step One: Travel to Córdoba, Argentina

During the fall, I taught English and entertained kids at a casita comunitaria in Argentina where local moms picked up their food for the week. 

 

Step Two: Back to Dallas

From November to February I worked at a pizza restaurant in my hometown.

 

Step Three: Travel to Sevilla, Spain

In the spring, I served as an intern at a neighborhood colegio in Spain and worked with diagnosing childhood developmental disorders.

 

My gap year was a necessary time of personal growth for me! What could it be like for you?

 

Should You Defer Your Acceptance?

 

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to defer your acceptance and it’s important to remember that these factors are not the same for everyone! What the internet deems a ‘pro,’ may be a con for you or may not be relevant to your situation.

 

This list goes through what people think of as the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of taking a gap year but is embellished with my own lived experiences. That being said, it’s important to pay attention to your values, personality, and goals when ultimately answering the question “should I defer my acceptance?”

 

Academics

 

PRO: You may develop a passion, or you may just be exposed to something new!

 

A large part of taking a gap year is exposure, and that can include exposure to a certain career. While I loved my internship in Sevilla and the students I worked with, the experience was not revolutionary for my future plans. No flip had switched. I did not leave Spain with the intention of devoting my life to working with kids with developmental disorders. But now, as I am nearing my college graduation, one of the career paths I am actively considering is pursuing a master’s in psychology to work with kiddos with ASD. My gap year didn’t help me “find my passion,” but it was my first exposure to a field that has grown more important to me.

 

PRO: You may want to build your resume through a gap year, or you can view your gap year as a time to figure things out.

 

Many students view a gap year as a way to add experience to their resumes. I don’t love that view because I am a firm believer that figuring out what you want to do often involves figuring out what you don’t want to do. Students deserve the space to dislike a career path they thought they might love.

 

In any case, the fact of the matter is that gap years are generally viewed positively when they are used productively! University employees view gap years as a time of productive growth, and I’ve heard that employers in the real world do, too.

 

CON(?): Some people may “lose academic momentum,” though that wasn’t my reality.

 

Some people say that a downside of taking a gap year is that you may lose academic momentum. Oddly enough, a lot of people like me elect to take a gap year to lose academic pressure. For me, high school was very difficult. I was a high-achieving student (which was draining) and I struggled emotionally and socially in a lot of ways. I needed a break, but because I love school (always have, always will), I knew that there was no risk of me “losing momentum.” It’s important to think about how taking a gap year could affect you specifically.

 

Financial

 

PRO/CON: Lots of students use gap years to save up money because college and later life can be expensive. You are ultimately pushing back your entry into full-time employment though.

 

When you plan your gap year, you may want to consider getting a paid job somewhere. It is important to plan effectively if saving up money is your intention because working abroad often requires specific visas. For me, the work I did in Argentina did not require a visa because I was under a certain number of days, but my internship in Spain ended up requiring a student visa. Working domestically is also a great option if you want to avoid thinking about visas, immunizations, and travel insurance!

 

While you can save money during a gap year, deferring your acceptance means delaying your entry into the workforce after college. This is often important when considering your earning potential and your later career.

 

CON: While working during a gap year can make you money, the more formal gap year programs can be expensive.

 

There are families that spend over $50,000 on their student’s gap year, but there are also ways to do a gap year on a budget (these often involve working).

 

One budget-friendly option is participating in a work exchange program where you work a certain number of hours in exchange for lodging and meals. Common options include working in agriculture through a program called WWOOF (“I’m gonna be WWOOFing next year”), working as an Au Pair in a foreign country, or using a website like WorkAway to find opportunities from manning the front desk at a hostel to doing inventory on a fishing boat to taking care of livestock… the options are endless.

 

If you don’t want to work during your gap year, you may need to consider the cost of living in different countries, as well as the cost of getting there. Expenses can add up.

 

CON(?): This was not my situation, but depending on your situation, taking a gap year may affect previously-awarded scholarships and financial aid.

 

Because I was awarded a scholarship to USC early in the spring of my senior year, I was sure to ask about deferring my scholarship when asking admissions my other questions about deferral. It ended up being easy to request that both of my USC scholarships be deferred with my admission. The protocol for scholarships isn’t the same for all institutions, so it is important to be in contact with your university about how deferral may affect your financial situation.

 

Additionally, the FAFSA runs on a school-year cycle. This means that you likely will need to re-submit a FAFSA for the next school year (the year you report will also change in this situation, and that is important for some students). Lastly, many universities require that you complete the FAFSA to be considered for university scholarships, so by deferring your admissions, you might also change your status with non-federal funding.


Similarly, if you earn a significant amount of money during your gap year, that may impact your financial aid package. Be sure to ask the financial aid office about how gap year earnings factor in.

 

Personal

 

PRO: You will probably learn a lot about yourself and change a lot.

 

People often focus on gap years as a time to learn about different careers and cultures, but I learned a ton about myself during my gap year. I realized how much I value autonomy and that it is important for me to be in charge of my own schedule to be healthy and productive. Taking a break allowed me to work on myself and to figure out my identity, when all of my energy had previously gone into my studies. You may change in different ways during your gap year, but I think the sheer act of shaking up your routine leads to growth in one way or another.

 

PRO: If you get the opportunity to travel, it can be amazing!

 

Traveling is outstanding and it’s an opportunity many people don’t have. I was able to go abroad during my gap year and I am so grateful for that! 

 

Personally, when I think back on my gap year, I don’t think about all of the “important” places I saw as much as I think about experiences that led to my personal growth. My two favorite travel experiences included going to a little fishing town in Portugal alone for my birthday weekend because my friends changed their minds at the last minute and doing a pilgrimage in Northern Spain with truly terrible, cold and windy days and nights. Both of these experiences were quite difficult (and in the case of the pilgrimage, physically painful), but through them, I learned that I love traveling alone.

 

You may hate traveling alone and instead learn that you love a specific language or culture or that you are absolutely crazy about French art or Bolivian food. Because traveling exposes you to different experiences, you learn what you love and what you hate, and understanding what you value turns out to be a pretty important part of being human.

 

PRO: If you go abroad, you might learn a new language!

 

Learning a new language works in tandem with traveling. For me, being immersed in two different Spanish-speaking countries improved my Spanish manifold (I also now speak Spanish with a funny Argentinian/Spanish combined accent). 

 

Confidence was always so hard for me when it came to language learning, so I chose small cities to live in where I was forced to try every day. This may be something to consider if you are trying to learn a new language!

 

PRO/CON: When you do attend your university, you will be a year older than most of your peers.

 

It’s been three years of being older than all of my friends, and I’m still not sure if it’s a pro or a con, or if it really matters at all. Sometimes I notice it, but ages within a ‘grade level’ already vary. I have friends at USC who were held back in 4th grade or skipped 2nd grade and I even have two friends at USC who took gap years at the same time I did. I think the conclusion I have come to is that it’s just not that big of a deal.

 

See more about the pros and cons of a gap year.

 

How to Defer Your College Acceptance

 

My timeline, for your reference:

 

  • Fall semester of senior year (2016) – I applied to different universities
  • Spring semester of senior year (2017) – I received admissions offers
  • May 1, 2017 – I decided to attend USC and paid my commitment deposit
  • July 2017 – I submitted a deferral request to USC and was approved
  • August 2018 – I started as a freshman at USC

 

Step 1: Apply to Colleges/Universities

 

The first step to taking a gap year is applying to and getting into a university! There are situations where students go through the college application process during their gap year instead of deferring admission, but it is uncommon. 

 

If you’re on the waitlist, keep in mind that you will likely not be able to defer your acceptance if you’re ultimately admitted. This is because colleges use waitlists to fill their current class.

 

Step 2: Confirm Attendance

 

May 1 is National College Decision Day, so that’s when you have to make up your mind, even if you are deferring. 

 

My decision to attend USC was influenced by the fact that I had been in contact with the admissions office about my deferral and it seemed like I was likely to be approved. This was not true of all of the schools that I was considering and became a factor in my evaluation process.

 

Unfortunately, the one problem that comes with the May 1 date is that most schools require a commitment deposit (sometimes called an enrollment deposit) with your decision. When I went through the deferral process at USC, I lost this $300 deposit because it was specific for the 2017-2018 school year.

 

Step 3: The Deferral Process

 

The deferral process differs from university to university. It will be important to talk to your school’s admissions office about how they handle things. 

 

The USC deferral application was one simple page and asked for basic information about myself and my education history, then requested I “explain below the reason you wish to defer your admission to a new semester.” 

 

I started asking questions about deferral in April, then submitted my application on July 5 and was approved on July 6.

 

From my understanding, the deferral process generally takes place from April to July. My main advice is to form a relationship with the admissions office so you can get the answers to these questions as early as possible:

 

  • When must I request deferral by? How quick is the turnaround rate for knowing if I am approved?
  • What does the deferral application require?
  • What is the likelihood of my deferral request being approved?
  • How will my deferral affect my specific financial situation? (You should outline your financial situation, and they may direct you to speak to the financial aid department)
  • Will I need any documentation to re-enroll during the subsequent year?
  • Can I take courses during my gap year? (The answer is probably no because you would then need to re-apply as a transfer student, but if this is part of your plan, definitely address it)
  • After getting my deferral request approved, do I simply wait a year until the university reaches out to me again?

 

Step 4: Personal Planning

 

After your deferral request has been approved, the focus shifts away from the university and towards your own personal planning. By that time, you know where you will be and what you will be doing (because you had to put your plans on your deferral application), but you will need to figure out details like housing, visas, and financial planning. Plan well and things will be easier! But also, plan for a good amount of flexibility because a gap year is a time to learn about yourself and to allow change.

 

More Questions?

 

If you still have more questions about deferral, check out our Admissions Advice community forum. Through our platform, you can hear answers, advice, and experiences from peers and experts, all for free.

Brooke Elkjer
Blog Writer

Short Bio
Brooke is going into her senior year at the University of Southern California and is originally from Dallas, Texas. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. Brooke is the associate literary producer for the intersectional feminist production company on campus, ART/EMIS. She also is a Resident Assistant (RA) and a student worker for the Thematic Option Honors GE Program. In her free time, Brooke enjoys reading, writing, and watching Gilmore Girls.

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