The Deferral Process

What deferral means, why you should do it, and how you can make it happen

Taking time to gain an edge

More and more graduating high school students are deciding not to go straight from high school to college, and instead to invest in their own personal development with a year of travel, language-learning, cultural exchange, and professional experience. The benefits can be enormous.

Not only are these experiences beneficial for students, but they are also beneficial for colleges. Students who take a gap year gain skills that help build a better college community. During their gap year, students become more self-motivated, self-aware, creative, adaptable, and open-minded. Top colleges across the country support and encourage students taking a gap year, because they know gap year students will be leaders and important members of their campus communities.

Almost all colleges have in place systems and policies that allow accepted students to hold their spots at the college for a year while they take a gap year. This process—called “deferral”—varies slightly from school to school, but it involves a few easy steps that allow you to have your spot ready and waiting for you when you return from your gap year!

How to defer from college:
  1. Step
    Apply to colleges & your gap program

    Before you can defer, you need to get accepted first! Start by applying to the colleges of your choice. At the same time, apply for your gap year program. The college and gap planning processes should ideally go hand-in-hand.

  2. Step
    Decide where you want to go

    Congrats, you got in! Next, choose the college you want to attend. Enroll in your gap program.

  3. Step
    Submit your college deposit

    Reserve your spot at your top-choice college by submitting a deposit.

  4. Step
    Submit required documents to your college

    Once your deposit has been submitted, you’ll need to send a handful of required documents in order to defer. This typically includes writing a letter about why you want to defer, which the admissions committee will review.

  5. Step
    Receive approval for your gap year

    Congratulations! Your request to defer was approved, and you’re free to go on the gap year of your dreams, knowing you have a spot waiting for you in the following fall!

Frequently asked questions

Ready to defer from college and pursue a gap year? Here are more resources to help you out.

Does every college let students defer enrollment for a year?

The vast majority of colleges in the U.S. allow students to defer enrollment for one or two years to pursue travel, work, or education experiences! When starting the college search, it’s always great to ask the Office of Admissions at the schools you are considering about their policy on gap years.

Who at my university do I contact about deferring?

Your admissions officer at your college is your best resource for questions about deferring. You may need to submit a letter directly to them, or they can point you in the right direction to another university employee or office.

When do I need to let my college know I’m deferring?

Deadlines vary from college to college. Some schools evaluate gap year requests on a rolling basis, but others have deadlines that range between May 1 and August 1 for students who are accepted to matriculate in the fall. A good piece of advice for everyone is “the sooner the better”! This is great for both you and for the school—you will have more time to prepare for your gap year, and your school will have more time to process your request.

What supporting documents do I need to show my college?

Many colleges require students to write a letter of intent or fill out a short application to let the college know what you are planning to do on your gap year. The Gap Year Association has a great resource on how to write this deferral letter. Some colleges also require you to fill out a quick application that gives the details of the planned year.

Does my financial aid and scholarship package carry over if I defer?

This varies from college to college, but most colleges allow you to carry over merit scholarship offers. For federal financial aid, you will usually have to fill out the FAFSA again the following year, but if your family’s situation remains pretty much the same, your financial aid package should also remain similar.

Can I apply to other schools during my gap year if I have deferred enrollment?

Colleges see deferral as a firm commitment. This means that you are not allowed to apply to other colleges during your gap year if you have deferred enrollment. If you are unsure where you want to go to college, instead of deferring your enrollment at one school, you can use your time during your gap year to explore your college options and work on your applications.

Do colleges like it when students defer enrollment?

YES! Some of the top colleges in the country specifically encourage students to take a gap year because they know that having students take a gap year helps students reach their full potential. Deferring enrollment gives you peace of mind as a student because you know where you’ll be headed after your gap year. This essay on Harvard’s admissions page talks about what a lot of colleges are seeing — that the results of taking a gap year are “uniformly positive”.

Where can I find more information about the deferral process?

The Gap Year Association is a great resource for students considering a gap year. They have a helpful guide to specific universities’ deferral policies that can be found here. At EF Gap, our team is also a resource for you and can help walk you through the deferral process! Reach out to your Gap Year Consultant with any questions.

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