Can I Take Community College Classes While Deferring Enrollment?

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I've been accepted at my first choice, and this school allows students to defer for up to two years. Would it be okay if I defer my enrollment and during that two years, I enroll at community college? This would save me a lot of money. Or would I have to turn down my acceptance at my first choice and then apply later as a transfer student? I guess I am confused about what people do with their time otherwise when they defer enrollment.

Colleges have varying policies when it comes to allowing deferring students to take college classes for credit. Many schools put a limit on the number of credits that can be accrued during this period (usually in the neighborhood of six to 12). Some do not permit taking classes for credit at all. So you will have to contact the college you plan to attend to ask what the rules are there. Yet "The Dean" can practically bet the mortgage money that you won't be allowed to rack up a significant number of community college credits during a two-year "deferral" without being expected to reapply to your first-choice school as a transfer. If you're really lucky, however, your college may offer you a "conditional" transfer acceptance but not a guaranteed one (i.e., when you earn a specified GPA at the two-year college, you would be able to enroll as a transfer without reapplying). But this is a long-shot. After spending half your undergraduate career at a community college, your first choice will most likely insist that you reapply.

Of course, since you were already accepted by your top pick, and if you're optimistic that you can be successful at a two-year school, then your money-saving gambit might make sense, even if you have to take your chances with a transfer application down the road. Look up transfer-admission statistics to get a sense of whether admission odds are better, worse, or about the same for transfers as they are for freshmen at this top pick. If you're seeking merit aid, check to see what scholarships — if any — are available for transfers because, as a transfer candidate, you probably won't be eligible for any merit scholarships that you were offered already. Also keep in mind that, a couple years down the road, your ardor for your current first-choice college could diminish, and you might decide to choose a different four-year school instead.

Students who defer an acceptance before starting college typically do so for only one year. Many spend the time traveling, working, pursuing internships or artistic interests, or taking part in organized gap-year programs (the latter, however, can often be pricey). Two-year deferrals are most common for students who are fulfilling military or religious obligations. If you're convinced that you don't want to start college in the fall, but you're not sure what else to do, you might consider two service-oriented gap-year programs that actually pay a stipend to participants rather than send a hefty bill. Read about CityYear and AmeriCorps, both popular among gappers. And with a presidential election on the horizon, you might also volunteer for your favorite candidate. But before you make any plans at all, contact admission officials at the college you hope to attend (eventually!) to find out exactly how you go about requesting a deferral and what guidelines you must follow when taking classes during your time off.


About the Ask the Dean Column: Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please send it along here.