Gap Year

Why and How to Defer College Acceptance for a Gap Year

Learn the benefits of deferring college admissions to take a gap year, and tips for how to do so.

Why and How to Defer College Acceptance for a Gap Year

You’ve worked hard throughout high school -- made good grades, passed plenty of challenging courses, participated in extra-curricular activities, and it's all finally paid off in the form of an acceptance letter from the college or university of your choice. Letter in hand, you know you’ve done it -- you’re well on your way to the next successful stage in your life that will provide the foundation of your future career.

But maybe you’re hesitant. Maybe these years of hard work and focus have left you a little burned out. You’re tired, and the idea of four more grueling years of college, while exciting, makes you even more tired. If this is the case, it might just mean that you’re ready for a gap year. To do that, you’ll want to defer college for a year -- which is not only possible but increasingly common.

Keep reading to learn why we think you should consider deferring college admission for a year and dedicate time to experiential learning through a gap year.

What is a gap year?

While a long-time British tradition, the gap year is becoming increasingly popular globally. Americans are learning what Europeans have known for generations: taking some time off before or during college can lead to rich experiences, more profound knowledge of oneself, and a better, more focused collegiate career.

Many people come back from gap years changed -- they're worldlier, more focused, more empathetic, and self-reliant.

A gap year can take many forms. For some, it’s a solo backpacking trip around the world. For others, it might be participating in a formal, structured program like GapForce's Nepal and India adventure. Often, a gap year takes young people to places they’ve never been before or places of which they have never even dreamed.

But why take a gap year? A gap year is a chance to experience the world at a time when you’re most open to it. It’s an opportunity to jump whole-heartedly outside of your comfort zone and see where you land. It's a time to press the refresh button, learn something you could never have learned in school, and -- if you do it right -- even become more successful once you enter college.

Read more: What is a Gap Year & How Do You Take One?

Gap Year Crash Course: Gap Year to College Transition

Learn more about the gap year to college transition with this recorded webinar from the 2021 USA Gap Year Fairs series!

Why defer college for a gap year?

The period between high school and college is a delicate time, one where teenagers are transitioning from being children in their parents’ homes to adults on their own. It’s a time for self-discovery and exploration when you can learn who you are, what you want, and what your place in the world might be.

A pre-college gap year is a chance for you to spend some time doing things that don’t require you to ask, “how will this look on my college application?” It’s a chance to travel, take a break, look around you, meet wonderful people, try new things, and figure out what you want to do.

Many people come back from gap years changed -- they're worldlier, more focused, more compassionate, and more self-reliant.

It’s no coincidence that many students come back from their gap year and change their intended major or have a more tangible career goal to apply to their studies. A gap year is about dedicating time to focus on you and clarify your academic, career, and life objectives.

Benefits of a gap year

While a gap year, by definition, is a broad and entirely unique experience, there are commonly gained benefits from dedicating time to self-growth and travel. Academics, college administrators, parents, professors, future employers, and students themselves find that those who take a gap year before college come to school ready and focused. They also come with a whole set of new or polished skills that they gained along the way.

Reported benefits from gap year alum include improved GPAs, greater campus involvement, an increased likelihood of graduating on time, and higher reported rates of job satisfaction. It's clear that students who take gap years prove to have skills that benefit them both inside and outside the classroom.

According to the Gap Year Association Research, Data, and Benefits Report, benefits of the gap year include:

  • Greater life experiences and personal growth
  • Better understanding of career options and incresased work experiences
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Greater global awareness and appreciation of other cultures
  • Fluency in a foreign language
  • Improved communication skills
  • Increased readiness for college
  • Greater abilities to work as part of a team
  • Problem solving skills
  • The ability to deal well with unexpected frustrations
  • Successfully working in cross-cultural setting
  • ncreased independence

Who wouldn’t want to walk into a freshman classroom armed with this kind of confidence and skill set?

Read more: Why You Should Take a Gap Year After High School

The college deferral process

Why and How to Defer College Acceptance for a Gap Year: The Deferral Process

The good news is that deferring your college admission for a year has never been easier or more acceptable. Universities and colleges recognize that gap years can result in a more mature, dedicated student body that brings with it a wealth of diverse experiences. That means that they are more open to granting deferrals to accepted students. In fact, the acceptance letter from Harvard University even suggests to its incoming freshmen that they might want to take some time off before starting college.

How to Defer College

  • Apply to college before you take a gap year.
  • Get accepted and confirm that you will attend.
  • Send a letter or email to the college's director of admissions and outline what you plan to do on your gap year / gap semester.
  • The admissions committee will evaluate the letter and grant / deny the deferral.
  • Send deferral letters between April and mid-June.

As Kristin White, director of Darien Academic Advisors and author of The Complete Guide to the Gap Year says, "in most cases, admissions offices grant the deferral." And although it's best to request deferral between April and mid-June, "at the very latest, students should send their requests before their first fall tuition payments are due, which is usually July 1 or August 1.”

What to Know About the College Deferral Process

Keep in mind that each college and university is different. The Gap Year Association has collected informal information on the specific deferral process at hundreds of American colleges and universities to help you, but contact your specific college or university for the most updated policies and procedures.

It's also important to note that many schools will grant a year deferral but not a quarter or semester, so be sure to factor this into your plans and budget.

Check with your college or university to see if there is any potential for gaining college credit for your gap year activities. This is rarely the case, but it’s worth asking. Suppose you enroll in another school for classes during your gap year. In that case, you might have to reenroll in your college/university as a transfer student. This is another policy that will differ by institution so ask your admissions office about their specific policies.

In terms of deferring financial aid or scholarships, be sure to check with your school. Just because you’ve been offered financial assistance with your initial acceptance doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed that same package when you return a year later. It might mean that you have to reapply for financial aid and scholarships before you start school, but the chances are if you were granted it the first time around, you'd be granted it again.

Read more: 10 Steps to Planning a Gap Year Before College

What to know about returning to your university after a gap year

Why and How to Defer College Acceptance for a Gap Year: Returning to Attend College/University

So you’re sold on taking a gap year, but you want to make sure you have something to come back to. That’s why deferring your college acceptance allows you the best of both worlds. You retain certainty on your next major life step, and get to dedicate time to your personal life during a gap year.

Some students (and parents) worry that taking time off will result in a loss of skills that contribute to success in college, but this is often not the case. Robert Clagett, a former senior admissions officer at Harvard University and dean of admissions at Middlebury College writes in Why Your High School Senior Should Take a Gap Year: “the prevailing wisdom is that kids are going to lose their hard-earned study skills if they take a gap year. The opposite is true.”

Instead, Clagett argues in his article for College Admission, “for many of those students, stepping off the educational treadmill for six months or a year between high school and college can be an important way to remind themselves of what their education should really be about.

It can also lead to a much more productive experience once they are enrolled in college, since those students will frequently be more mature, more focused, and more aware of what they want to do with their college education.”

William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University says in a U.S. News Article:"the feedback from students almost all the time has been that this experience was transformative. The more life experience you bring, the better off you are in school."

Yes! Defer college and go on a gap year

If you’re feeling even the slightest bit like this is something you want or need to do, you should seriously consider it! Go on a gap year and enjoy a year experiencing the world. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but for those who feel called to take a break before jumping into the rigorous academics of college or university, it could be the best decision of your life.

Take the leap!

Educational institutions are realizing that gap year students come back revitalized, focused, mature, and self-aware. They are ready to engage and bring a sense of worldliness to the classroom. Schools are making the deferral process more accessible and acceptable, and a growing number of universities are even actively encouraging students to take time off before starting their freshman year.

Come back from a gap year experience more ready than ever for a sterling collegiate career, and whatever excitement comes after it!

This post was originally published in May 2015, and updated in May 2020 and June 2021.