What Happens When You Defer a University Offer?

advice for students
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By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on August 11, 2023

Many US universities allow you to defer your acceptance for up to a year. Find out why you may defer your acceptance and what the deferment process looks like.

Two international students stand in front of a train wearing backpacks as they travel on their gap year before starting at a US university

A college or university acceptance is an exciting validation of all the hard work you have done. But you do have the option to defer your acceptance. A deferment delays your enrollment for up to one year while guaranteeing your spot for the following year.

When you choose to defer, it allows you to pursue other opportunities outside of school, such as internships, travel, or the ability to complete mandatory military or national service. 

Why Would You Defer a University Offer? 

There are several reasons why you may want to defer your university admission. First, you may experience visa delays. To study in the United States, most international students will require one of three different types of student visas managed by the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Each type of visa requires that you complete a number of steps, such as providing documentation to prove your identity, completing your visa application, showing acceptance into the university program where you will be studying, and conducting an interview at a United States embassy or consulate. 

The interview is usually the last step before a visa is issued. However, the visa process cannot start until 120 days before you are scheduled to start your program.

Appointment wait times vary greatly by location and country. For instance, in Frankfurt, the average appointment wait time is 51 calendar days. The average appointment wait time is 43 days in New Delhi. But in Berlin and Tokyo, it is only nine days, and in Beijing, just two days. 

Once your required steps have been completed, your visa application will be processed and a decision will be made on whether to issue you a student visa. Processing times can vary greatly based on the staffing levels at the embassy, number of applications, and if any additional information is required for your application. Depending on your timing and your specific experience, you may opt to defer entry into university so you can get your paperwork organized in time for the next year.

Another reason why you may defer is to pursue a job opportunity or to save money. Tuition in the United States is twice as high as many universities throughout the world and there are not always scholarships or grants offered for international students. Attending university can be one of the largest financial decisions that you make and unless you have family members or other means to help cover the costs of attending, spending a year working and saving money can greatly help you offset some of the costs.

Lastly, you may have an opportunity to travel or gain experience in your intended field of study. Before you commit to several years of school, you may find that gaining real-world experience helps you better determine what you want to study. When it is time to decide on your major, you will have more focus.

Taking a gap year can allow you the opportunity to pursue your interests through internships or jobs, immerse yourself in a field you’re interested in, and learn valuable skills and experience that cannot be gained in the classroom. The opportunity to travel and experience other cultures also can help you better understand a variety of perspectives and work with others from different backgrounds.

What Happens When You Defer

You will first need to review your university’s deferment policy. Contact your school to ensure deferment is an option.

You will likely need to pay a deposit to hold your spot at the university. Deposit fees can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you decide not to pursue an academic program during your deferral, then you will not receive the deposit fee back.

Many schools will require you to submit, in writing, a deferral request form, which the school’s admissions office will then process. When you submit the deferral request form, you will have to state if you are requesting to defer for one, two, or more semesters.

Carefully review your school’s policies, as some only allow you to defer a semester or a full year. Additionally, some academic programs may require you to start at certain times of the year. You will also want to check the deadline for submitting a deferment application.

Some universities in the United States will allow you to take courses at a different institution during your gap year. But other universities do not allow this and can rescind your offer of admission or require you to reapply as a transfer student. This process will be slightly different from the original application and there is no guarantee that past admission will guarantee future admission.

If you defer, you will want to pay attention to the timing required to process your visa. As noted above, some appointment wait times are longer than others. Ensure you have all your paperwork in order and schedule your visa appointment as soon as possible — as long as it is within the 120 days before your start time.

Does It Make Sense for You to Defer? 

When it comes to deciding whether a deferment is right for you, there are a few benefits and drawbacks that you should consider.

First, deferring can give you time to pursue other opportunities such as travel, volunteering, or building job skills. Having the chance to immerse yourself in another culture, to volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about, or to start earning some money before you attend university are all options that can better prepare you for future challenges. This can also act as a “reset” for you personally, giving you the ability to recharge before another few years of school and studying.

Another benefit of deferring is that it can give you the time to work within your field of interest. Maybe you believe that working as an attorney is what you want to do in life, and you could work in a law office before beginning your program. Once you observe an attorney’s day-to-day job function, you may decide that this career is not the right fit for you or that you do not enjoy the work. On the other hand, the job may reinforce your decision and the experience ignites a passion in you that helps fuel you through your academic career, knowing that once you graduate you can work in a field that you love.

Before you request that deferment though, there are a few drawbacks. The first is that not all schools allow students to defer unless in the case of a death of a family member, a drastic change in income, or being called to military service. While many universities do offer deferments, be sure to check that your university does and that you meet the requirements for granting them.

Second, when you are offered scholarships, grants, or other forms of financial aid, they are normally offered on a conditional basis. That condition is that you enter university without deferring. It is important to review your financial aid package and confirm that if you were to defer that the aid will still be available to you in the new academic year you plan on attending university.

Lastly, continuing your studies may be easier when you attend university directly after graduating from primary school. Your reading comprehension, writing, and mathematical skills will be finely tuned when you are straight out of school, making studying easier. You may find it difficult taking a year off without practicing these skills when you have to retrain your mind and behaviors for exams and study sessions after traveling the world or earning a paycheck.

Deferment is a common and acceptable option for students. If any of the reasons for deferment fit your situation — visa delays, travel opportunity, internship, mandatory military service — you may explore whether your school allows you to defer. The additional time may help you better make the most of your time when you do begin your studies.

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