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Advice on requesting deferral/gap semester or year


Bocky
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DD17 would like to defer her entry to her chosen school, a small, liberal arts college, for a semester or year in order to get a persistent physical health issue diagnosed and treated. What's a good way to approach the school? Email? Call? Admissions counselor or academic counselor? How much should she disclose? If you have btdt, what was your experience? Thank you!

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I would first have her email her advisor and just say that she is considering a gap year/deferral for the year and ask who she should contact with questions.

They'll either point her in the right direction or tell her they don't "do that" and she'll just need to reapply next year.

As far as how much info to give - if it's a school that allows gap years, I wouldn't give anymore information than the bare facts that she would like to take a gap year and defer her admission to the following school year and ask for instructions on how to go about it.

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Not btdt, but as an academic advisor, I can tell you that the academic advisor is almost certainly not the person who has any power to act in this matter.

I would have her contact her admissions counselor,  ask about a deferral and definitely mention  "medical reasons" so they see it's not willy-nilly. Good luck!

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Is it even necessary to notify the college of a gap semester/year if the student has only applied and been accepted for admission though not yet registered, unless scholarships or loans are involved?

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Yes it is and for most schools, you need it in writing otherwise they are not obligated to keep the seat and you will need to reapply the next year. Getting it in writing helps the student to focus on the gap year and not worry about apply again the next year. 

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I would begin with the admissions counselor.  I would also take into consideration how competitive admissions are at the school.  Schools that are not highly competitive will often be more accommodating because they are not having to agree to keeping a highly coveted spot open for the following year.

A gap year is usually considered as something that the student is pursuing for educational/development purposes, such as spending a year in a foreign country learning a language or volunteering.  There may be a separate category for delaying admissions for medical reasons.  You would not need to go into lots of details to begin with, but I would be clear that you are asking about the process for medical reasons.

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My ds did this by contacting the admissions department.  He was working toward a worthwhile goal during his gap year and briefly explained it.  They didn't have a problem with his deferring a year.

Depending on the school, I personally think it would be easier to come in at the start of the academic year rather than 2nd semester.  At the start of the year, they have a lot of activities for new students, so it feels natural and much easier to meet people.  I think starting mid-way through the year would feel a little harder.  Friend groups have already been established and it's probably harder to break in.

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My son did a gap year this year. He knew he wanted to do that going in so we asked everyone about it during the admissions process. He applied to 11 schools (all small liberal arts schools) and they all said sure, it would be fine. They also all said any scholarships would carry over. For others who might be interested, he is also going to be swimming (DIII) and all the coaches were also fine with deferral as long as he continued his conditioning/training. We heard from several colleges who said from their perspective, they like gap years for maturity. 

For the school he actually chose (and will be attending in the fall) he just wrote the admissions counselor and told them he'd like to that. They needed a specific letter sent in. They did want him to say why the gap year in order to approve it although I got the feeling that approval was kind of a formality. I think they don't want it to be "I'm applying elsewhere in hopes I get in somewhere better". For him it was just that he wanted to travel and have a break. They were fine with that, it didn't have to be a big justifiable reason, just clear that he was truly planning on coming to their school at the end of it. We had to pay the deposit to hold his spot. We also got it in writing from the financial aid office that his scholarship would also defer. The rest of the financial aid package we had to reapply for, but you essentially do that every year anyway. It ended up being exactly the same but there was a small grant we weren't sure if he would get. 

Most places told us to be careful about him taking classes during his gap year. If he had taken any classes for college credit, it could impact his standing and make him a transfer student and not a freshman, is the way I understand it. But he was not planning on doing that so it didn't matter for us. 

The only other thing I'd say is that we did find that the small college didn't have a ton of experience with gap years. There were a few kind of weird things...like they didn't really know how to classify him so they kind of moved him out of the admitted student bucket as far as email access and other things so for awhile he was getting recruiting emails from the college. But because it was small we also were able to easily contact people who could look at it and go "oh, yeah, it's fine...we know who he is." 

 

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Update: thanks everyone for the thoughtful and helpful responses. It encouraged DD17 to reach out to her admissions counselor, who was super helpful. She wrote a short letter, sent it to her admissions counselor who passed it on. The deferral was granted within 24 hours. Now we can concentrate on unpacking and finding new doctors in our new state...oh, and finishing up senior year 😄

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