How to Ask for (and Get!) a Gap Year Deferral

Every year at this time, students looking to delay the start of college need to notify their school that they would like to request a Gap Year deferral. While this process is relatively straightforward and has similarities across colleges, every institution seems to have slightly different policies, processes, forms and deadlines. The purpose of this post is to help students planning a Gap Year understand how to successfully receive a “yes” for their deferral request.

Step 1: Make sure the school permits Gap Year requests.

This is pretty easy, since nearly every school now allows Gap Years. When Gap Year Solutions conducted a survey of college attitudes towards Gap Years in 2018, 45 out of 48 schools (94%) ranked in the WSJ Top 500 said they permit (and usually strongly supported) students taking Gap Years. Our 2021 survey indicated that two of the three “no” schools from 2018 now allow Gap Years (University of New Haven and Loyola University Chicago). The lone holdout, Temple University, still lists acceptable deferral reasons as completing “religious, volunteer or military service or for unplanned medical circumstances.” (Note: the University of California schools do not accept Gap Years – students will need to reapply if they want to defer admission.)

Step 2: Understand the school’s deferral process

Each college or university has a slightly different approach to granting deferrals. Typically the school’s website will outline this, but some websites have very little information so a call to the admissions office is a good idea. This has two advantages – one, the student’s admissions officer has a heads up that the student is considering a Gap Year, and two, the student will have full visibility into the process including tips and guidance not listed on the website. Schools will require a free-form letter or specific application that usually asks for:

  • Reason for Gap Year deferral
  • Student’s objectives for taking the time
  • Length of time (semester or year – some schools only grant a year)
  • Outline of the Gap Year plan

As stated by Colorado College’s website, “Your gap year plan does not have to be in its final stage at the time you submit your request. Think of your gap year request as a thoughtful proposal that you genuinely intend to fulfill but which may require some modification(s) at a later date.” We love this description because it is exactly how we coach our students to complete the requested information.

Step 3: Understand the school’s deferral deadline

While Gap Year requests were accepted late into July and August last year due to the disruption of COVID-19, this year the traditional deadline to submit requests by May 1st seems to be back in place. Some schools are a bit later, but if students are considering a Gap Year, be aware that the application / deferral letter should be prepared by the same May 1st deadline as the enrollment deposit. Double and triple check if you think the submission deadline is later than this.

Step 4: Write the deferral letter

The deferral “application” is sometimes no more than a letter to the school with the information listed above. Other times, schools have a formal online application.

Our advice is for students to prepare a draft of their Gap Year request, and then have the student’s parents, a friend, school counselor, college counselor or Gap Year advisor proof the request and offer some edits to tighten it up.

Here are three sample letters from Gap Year Solutions students to provide some guidance:

Step 5: Submit the deferral request

And that’s it! As long as students follow the school’s instructions, submit by the deadline and have a rough plan, we have never heard of a Gap Year request being turned down.

Bonus content

Here is an overview of how four schools approach the deferral process:

Santa Clara University (CA): Considers students for a limited number of Gap Year deferrals. Winter start, Early Decision and wait listed applicants are not eligible for a Gap Year. Deadline: May 1st. More information and Gap Year application available here.

Colorado College (CO): Student notifies school of interest in taking a Gap Year by sending email to admission@coloradocollege.edu. School then provides an online form for student to fill out, looking for reason for Gap Year, and description and timeline of Gap Year plan. Deadline: May 1st. More information here.

Washington University in St. Louis (MO): Students email the Admissions Office at admissions@wustl.edu to request to defer admission to take a Gap Year. Deadline: May 15th and students will be notified of the outcome of their requests by June 1st. More information here under the following question: “Can an applicant who has been admitted defer enrollment?”

Merrimack College (MA): Student requests Gap Year deferral by submitting a letter to the admissions office explaining the reason for the request and the specific term the student plans to enroll. Deadline: none provided on website. More information here.

Please reach out to us if you have any questions about requesting a Gap Year deferral, or any other questions about a Gap Year! Initial phone calls and the first consultation are always no charge.

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