Taking a Gap Year Due to Coronavirus? Here’s How To Write Your College Deferral Letter

If there’s one skill everyone is practicing in the year 2020, it’s flexibility. Perhaps in January you thought you knew exactly how this year was going to go. Now, we are in a new reality.

It can be difficult to make decision about your post-graduation life when the future is uncertain. I believe, however, that taking a gap year is still one of the most solid decisions a high school senior can make, and here’s why:

  • We know life will not return to normal until there is a vaccine/therapeutic/cure for COVID-19. The likelihood of disruption to a traditional college experience is high.
  • If you are uninterested in starting your college career online or do not want to pay for a substitute experience run by your future college, a gap year could be right for you.
  • Gap year time is nimble and can accommodate every eventuality we face in the fall, whether that be sheltering-in-place, community-based living or freedom to travel domestically or internationally.
  • Gap years can meet any budget (although with this economy, you shouldn’t bank on making significant amounts of money during your gap year).
  • Gap year time is a rite of passage. Since high school seniors have been robbed of their significant senior year experiences, a gap year can help reclaim some of that loss through personal growth and new friendships.

What to know about deferring college in 2020

**Note** Will keep this section updated throughout the spring as I know more about the positions evolving at the college level **

As of late April 2020, colleges that accept deferral requests are still accepting requests from students. I’ve been told off-the-record by admissions counselors that you should not mention coronavirus as a reason for taking a gap year. Your argument for your gap time should – as usual – be based on what you hope to do and learn on your gap year.

Semester or Year? Most colleges will defer your admission for a full school year, not just a semester. However, this year may be different. Ask your future college about the options.

Financial Aid: You will need to reapply for FAFSA this coming year whereas private scholarships or merit-based aid may or may not defer along with your admission. Ask your college for details.

If you are wondering what colleges think about deferring, you can reference the Gap Year Association’s list of deferral policies.

How do I defer college for a year?

Every institution is different, but it typically involves placing a deposit down at your future school to secure your space AND formally requesting a deferral. Most schools want to see an essay or personal statement about what you plan to do with your year.

How to Write a Deferral Letter in 2020

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. You should be able to describe several personal goals and why you want to build your gap year around them.

Demonstrate Resilience: Colleges aren’t clueless- they know as well as anyone that plans will change and evolve this year based on the real-time situation. You can demonstrate your resourcefulness by describing how you could achieve a goal in various scenarios. (see example letter for ideas).

Describe Your Planning Process: If you are working with a gap year counselor, attended a USA Gap Year Fair or have been planning your gap year for some while, you may want to mention that.

Request ASAP: All colleges that offer a gap year deferral have a firm deadline that usually falls between May-July. It behooves your this year to get your request in asap, since institutions may cap how many requests are granted.

What Does a Deferral Letter Look Like?

Here is an example of a great deferral letter written by an EnRoute student several years ago and edited for relevance this year:
 
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 2024. After reading about, hearing about, and attending a virtual tour of 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. In the event I’m not able to join this program, I plan to build my outdoor skills through a virtual course and plan a backpacking trip with friend when social-distancing rules allow.

After the New Year, I hope to travel to in Costa Rica with the language immersion program, SICR. At SICR I will study Spanish and intern with a conservation organization. In addition to learning about international conservation efforts, I will get to integrate with another culture. This will nurture my interests in sustainable practices and cross-cultural exploration.In the event I’m not able to travel internationally, I plan to take online Spanish courses and find a virtual intercambio partner to practice language with. 

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 2025.

Sincerely,

Jake Williams