I found out last week that I got into my first choice and I'm really excited. Now that I've been accepted, how do I tell the school that I want to defer for a year (I don't know how to bring it up and/or if it's even allowed). How does this usually work? Do I need to tell the school what I plan to do during that year?
Congratulations on the good news from your number-one college -- that's a great way to spring into spring! Now your next step is to gather information about your prospective gap year.
Most colleges (but not all) allow admitted students to defer enrollment for a year (and sometimes more). But the process and policies can vary from one institution to another. So first, you need to email the director of admission, with a copy to your regional rep. (If you haven't yet connected with your regional rep -- the staff person who oversees applicants from your high school -- just call the admission office and ask for the name.)
You should begin your email by saying how thrilled you are to be accepted to this college -- your top choice. Then explain that you are considering a gap year and ask if this is allowed -- and if so, how you should proceed. (If you already know what you're going to do during your year away, you should include this, too.)
At many colleges, requesting a gap year isn't much more than a formality and most reasonable requests are granted. You will be asked how you expect to spend your time off. Some colleges will want a very detailed agenda, while others just expect a general overview of your plans. Assuming that you have SOME sort of plan in place (even if it's just to wait tables to save money for tuition), it's likely that you'll get the green light. When you explain your gap year intentions, be sure to include extenuating circumstances, if any, that are part of your decision to defer (e.g., if a family member is ill and you want to stick close to home).
Once your gap year has been approved, you will probably have to pay a non-refundable deposit to save your space, and -- at some colleges -- you will also have to sign a document stating that you won't apply to other colleges during your time off (or, if you DO change your mind and apply elsewhere, you will be expected to give up the spot being saved for you first). If you have been awarded financial aid or a merit scholarship, you also need to confirm that the offer won't change during your year away.
At some institutions (e.g., the University of California), you may have your work cut out for you if you try to sell the admission folks on a gap year plan that isn't due to military service or extenuating circumstances, but many colleges actually encourage gap years and a few even provide some scholarships. So if your gap year program isn't already set in stone, you can ask if your college offers aid to gappers. You can look for funding online, too, and might find opportunities such as those listed here.
Of course, if the college you've chosen is one of the few that doesn't heartily support gap years but you're determined to take time off anyway, you may have a tough decision ahead. But chances are strong that your school will not only approve your plan to defer your enrollment but will also applaud it.
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