Mackenzie Dunn
June 17, 2020 11:21 am
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Klaus Vedfelt, Getty Images

If you were recently accepted to college, congratulations! This is an exciting albeit unconventional time. With the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) still looming, many colleges have chosen to host their classes online for the fall 2020 semester. Now, students across the country are wondering whether they should put in the work to go to college from home—forgoing the traditional college campus experience—or take their chances and put their education off for a year or semester by deferring.

One study conducted by LendEDU found that 30% of students who have already been accepted and sent a deposit to their school said they would consider not enrolling or try deferring their admission if all learning stays online for the fall 2020 semester. For some students, the implications of the pandemic might make online institutions and other more affordable options more attractive. Other people may choose to do a gap year instead—even if traveling right now is not in the cards.

However: “Because deferral policies vary significantly between colleges and are likely to change based on the impact of the pandemic, a decision to defer enrollment should be made only after carefully researching deferral policies and procedures through the admissions office at your college,” advises Michelle McAnaney, former guidance counselor and founder of The College Spy, a site that offers expert college admissions advice. In short: It may not be as simple as saying you’re not going to attend for the fall semester and having your spot waiting for you in the spring.

Here are some things to consider if you want to defer your college admission.

Deferred admission definition:

Described by the National Association for College Admission Counseling as “an opportunity for a student who has been admitted to delay or defer enrollment for a year or a semester,” deferred admission essentially lets you hold off on going to school for a short period of time. Usually, this requires you to have already been accepted and submitted your deposit. This deposit will theoretically “hold your place” as an accepted student at the school, contingent on an intent to attend at some point in the near future.

However, deferred admission typically does not mean you can hold your spot at one institution and attend another simultaneously. McAnaney makes it clear that colleges vary in their rules regarding taking courses at other colleges. “Many [colleges] do not allow students who have deferred admission to enroll at another college full time or as a degree-seeking student,” she says. “Students who choose to study full time at a community college or state university during a deferral may have to reapply to college as a transfer student,” she explains.

According to McAnaney, some colleges also limit the number of courses a student can take at another institution, even if they are not enrolled as a full-time student. Of course, this depends on the college or university’s individual rules, and, “at this point, we do not know if colleges are going to adjust these policies due to low enrollment or high requests for deferrals as a result of the pandemic,” she tells us.

How to defer your acceptance:

With so much uncertainty happening right now, deferring your admission for one year or potentially just a semester may be beneficial for both financial and mental health reasons.

As McAnaney explains, the process for applying for deferral has not changed due to the pandemic. You’ll want to start by calling the admission office of the college where you deposited the check to find out what the protocol is.

In general, McAnaney says students will be asked to submit their request to defer admissions in writing. While some colleges may automatically grant deferrals, others (especially more selective schools) make those decisions on a case-by-case basis. “Colleges who grant some deferral requests but not others are looking for a ‘good reason’ for making the request,” she explains. Typically, these reasons include wishing (and having a concrete plan) to travel or study abroad, wanting to volunteer, taking up employment to pay for college, or having health or family concerns.

In McAnaney’s opinion, it’s quite possible that “not wanting to participate in online learning during the pandemic” is not going to be considered an acceptable reason for deferral at many institutions—but check with your school just to be safe.

Some factors to consider before deferment:

1Will the college accept my deferral request?

As mentioned above, some colleges only accept deferral requests under extenuating circumstances.

2Can the college still meet my financial needs?

If you were accepted to a school with a scholarship or financial aid package for the 2020 school year, know that the aid may change if you choose to defer your admission. While some schools do hold scholarships for students who are deferred, the policies vary.

Even if a college guarantees that merit scholarships will not change for the following year, need-based aid is recalculated every year with the FAFSA, Jill Desjean, a policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), told Money.com.

3How will this affect career and graduate school goals and timelines?

The study by LendEDU reported that 52% of current college students believe that coronavirus and its impacts will extend the time they originally thought it would take them to graduate from college. Deferring an acceptance may prolong these planned timelines, which means you might need to consider graduating a year later than initially anticipated.

4What are my plans if I don’t attend college in the fall?

Since not all colleges allow students to defer their acceptances and take classes online at another institution, deferring may mean not going to school for a year or semester. So what will you do with that time? While gap years are popular, they typically involve travel. Instead, you may consider volunteering, working, or freelancing as ways to pass the time or get financially ahead. No matter what, talk to your school and find a plan that’s right for you.