For prospective gap year students, the spring is an exciting time. You’ve heard from your colleges and have made choice about where to go. And once that’s decided, you need to ask them to hold your spot for a year in the form of a deferral letter. A deferral letter is a formal request to your future college that asks them to hold your admission for a year so you can take gap time.
You can find out a university’s deferral policy on their website or via a phone call to the admission’s office. If a school is deferral-friendly, they will ask you to write a letter about why you want to take gap time and what you plan on doing. If your deferral is accepted, you usually have to put down a deposit and voila! Gap time secured.
After speaking with several admissions counselors and walking students through deferral letters myself, here are some useful tips for writing your letter:
1. Be Specific: Colleges have different requirements for
what they want to see in a deferral letter, but generally, the more specific
the better. “We require students to demonstrate a concrete plan for their year
of how they are actually spending time,” explains Jason Tesone, Director of
Admissions at Vassar College. This means including the names of specific
programs or detailing an itinerary if you are not going through a program.
2. Address the “Why”: Colleges want to know why you would like to take a gap year and what you hope to get out of it. Be honest about your reasons for taking time out and describe how you want to grow as a person. Peter Osgood, an admissions director at the University of Puget Sound adds, “We want them to hone in on their personal goals…we don’t them to end up spending a year watching reruns of bad tv shows.”
3. Quality not Quantity: “A deferral letter needn’t be five pages long, one page is completely sufficient,” says Tesone. Draft an email as you would a formal letter and use about 4-6 beefy paragraphs to describe your plans.
4. Things Change: “It’s ok if plans change, in fact we
expect them to!” says Osgood. Most schools will not hold it against you if you decide to do something different than what you outlined in your letter. University of Puget Sound has gap year students check in the February before they start college to update them on how their plans evolved. Check with your school to see if they also require this step.
5. Adhere to deadlines: All colleges that offer a gap year deferral have a firm deadline that usually falls between May-July. While there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to rushing to get a deferral request in early, you do have to meet the deadline for consideration.
Both Osgood and Tesone agree that they’ve seen significant
benefits to students who have taken gap time. “We pretty much always grant deferrals if they meet our criteria and find that students who take meaningful time away arrive at Vassar as great students,” says Tesone.
Here is an example of a great deferral letter written by an EnRoute student several years ago and edited for anonymity:
John Smith
Director of Admissions
Aplus College
451 School Drive
Boston, MA 12345

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am writing to request a one-year deferral of my admission to Aplus College. I was accepted into the Aplus College Class of 2018. After reading about, hearing about, and visiting Aplus, I’m extremely excited to attend. I love its small size, intellectual and alternative atmosphere, great student support, and enthusiastic professors. I am sure it’s the college for me.My life, thus far, has been preparing me for both higher education and life outside of academia. I have never doubted that college would be for me, and have been looking forward to the college experience for years. Now, however, I feel truly that a Gap Year between high school and Aplus is what’s best for my personal development.

From late June to early August this summer, I will live at home on the weekends and spend my weeks living as a backcountry trail crew member. My crew will restore trails on public lands in Northern Vermont with the Green Mountain Club.  This is an exciting adventure of living in the woods for the first time, working and living extremely collaboratively and learning about stewardship of public lands.  This work will generate some money to facilitate the next stages of my gap year.

Following my trail crew work, I will spend the fall on a leadership and outdoor education course with Woodlands Outdoor School. I will spend 80 days with my group navigating the terrain of the American Southwest while honing skills in orienteering and various outdoor pursuits. I am excited for the physical challenge of this experience and the personal development Woodlands will provide.

After the New Year, I plan to travel to in Costa Rica with the language immersion program, SICR. At SICR I will study Spanish and intern with a coffee export business. In addition to learning about international business concepts, I will get to see the life cycle of a product. I will be working on the coffee farms, witnessing the processing of the beans, and be involved in the final packaging and export of the finished product. This will nurture my interests in sustainable business practices and cross-cultural exploration.

In another year, I expect to be a more mature and engaged member of the Aplus community. I sincerely hope you will grant my deferral request and welcome me as a member of the Class of 2022.


Jake Williams