It occasionally happens that you’ve been admitted to your dream school, but the timing turns out not to be right. You need an extra year before you start school, and you cross your fingers hoping your school will let you take the time you need before matriculating.
I myself deferred my admission to Harvard Kennedy School for one year and for Harvard Business School for two years. I’ve helped dozens of clients request one-year deferrals and all the clients I’ve worked with have been granted the deferral. However, the past is not an indicator of the future, and I always tell my clients to be prepared to not receive the deferral and to have an action plan in place for not receiving the deferral.
When should you request a deferral?
You should only request a deferral if you absolutely need it. Admissions committees chose you and admitted you for this incoming class—not a subsequent one—so they don’t “owe” you a deferral nor do they like giving them out. Requesting a deferral will not result in you losing your place in your class; you may just cause some annoyance and the need for some extra shuffling in the admissions office as they try and hit their ideal yield numbers for the year.
You need to request a deferral before you accept your place in the class and pay your deposit. Requesting a deferral after you’ve already accepted a place in the class and paid your deposit can cause a logistical headache for the admissions office, making it much more likely for them to refuse your request.
You should NOT request a deferral so that you can apply to a “better” school while having a safety net. This is unethical and, if discovered by your schools, could cause you to lose admission at both schools. If you get admitted to a school you aren’t excited to go to, you can always turn down your admission and reapply to schools you actually want to attend in later years.
Why should you request a deferral?
One reason to request a deferral might be that funding you thought you had for school fell through and you need an additional year to work and save money or to reapply for fellowships and financial aid.
Another reason might be that you had a serious personal situation arise such as a death in your immediate family and the need to financially support your surviving family members.
You may receive a job offer you can’t refuse or simply be admitted to a complimentary masters program at another school that you want to start before going to your other program.
Sample Deferral Request Letter (send via email)
Subject: Deferral Request for Kaneisha Grayson (Applicant #123456)
Dear [insert name of specific admissions officer who signed your admissions letter],
My name is Kaneisha Grayson (Applicant #123456). I was recently admitted to the MBA program at Yale SOM. I’m ecstatic to have been admitted to the incoming class and can’t wait to join.
I am writing to request a one-year deferral to the program.
[Here is where you insert the reason for your request. Keep this part concise and professional. Focus on succinctly stating the situation, stay solution-focused, and don’t try to appeal to sympathy; just state the facts and make your request.]
In order to hold my place in the following year’s class, I am happy to submit the form and deposit.
Please let me know if I can provide any additional information. Thank you for your consideration.
After you submit your deferral request
You should check back in with the admissions office if you don’t hear from them within two weeks. DO NOT let the deadline pass for accepting your place in the class if there is a chance that you can make it work to go to school immediately.
If you do receive the deferral, be sure to follow up on any next steps such as submitting your deposit, submitting any other forms they need, taking any pre-matriculation coursework they ask you to take, etc.
Then, make sure you get your affairs in order so that you are absolutely ready to matriculate in the following year’s class. In the past, I’ve helped one person receive two back-to-back deferral requests, but this is rare, and I don’t recommend you try it. He was an extraordinary applicant with extraordinary circumstances, so just don’t try it.
Congratulations on being admitted to your dream school! Enjoy your last few weeks or months before your schedule, social life, and professional life takes a new direction!