College Admissions

Considering Deferring Your College Attendance or Taking a Gap Year? Here is everything you need to know

by Tonya DuBois

During these uncertain times, when in-person college classes are sometimes limited, students are considering deferment and gap years more than ever before.

It’s important to understand the difference between the two and the ramifications of making these choices.

First, let’s define each term:

Deferment – a choice to enroll at a college, but defer the start date by a semester or a full year.

Gap Year – a choice to enroll at a college, but take a full year to engage in something enriching and productive, such as travel, community service, work, etc.

The policies at each college are different and it is critical that you check your college’s policy before making a decision to request a deferral or a gap year. Below are some general guidelines about how the process works and cautions for you to consider.

How does the process work?

Typically, you would need to select a college and pay an enrollment deposit. You would then complete the college’s deferral or gap year request paperwork and submit by the college’s due date. If the college agrees to delay your start date, you will need to read the fine print and sign an agreement. (With so many students requesting a delayed start date these days, please understand that not all requests are granted.)

A few cautions:

1. Often as part of a deferral or gap year agreement, the college indicates that you may NOT take colleges courses at any other college.
2. Even if there is no agreement as outlined in #1, if you take 12 college credits during a deferral or gap year, you would (in most cases) need to re-apply to the college, as you would now be considered a transfer student, rather than a first-year student. You could risk potentially not being accepted, losing freshman housing, or losing a merit scholarship.
3. If you defer for a full year, you will need to re-apply for financial aid. (If you defer for only a semester, typically the current financial aid form/offer is applied.)
4. If you have a merit scholarship, you will need to ask if that will still be applied if you defer/delay your attendance by any amount of time.
5. If you are an NCAA Division I or II athlete, you need to understand your deferment grace period, to ensure you don’t exceed that and lose eligibility – talk to your college admission office and/or coach to understand these guidelines.

The possibilities for an enriching gap year are truly endless. You could engage in language immersion in another country, teach or volunteer overseas, adventure/backpack/sail all over the world, work or intern in the area of your future major, or maybe even open your own business. If your family supports these kinds of experiences and agrees to delay your attendance in college, it’s worth requesting a gap year. Be certain to heed all the cautions outlined above and ask the right questions. Most importantly…If you have made a commitment to attend college the following year…be sure to stick to it!