How to defer entry to university

student on laptop

Here’s what you need to do if you want to take a year out before starting your course

Deferring entry to university means applying for a place on a course starting next year, with a year off before you go to university.

It’s different to just applying to university a year later because you’ll go through the application process at the same time as people starting this year, but the place that you accept will be for 2021 instead of 2020.

There are lots of things to think about when you’re deciding whether to defer entry or start university this year – particularly at the moment, with the coronavirus pandemic causing so much uncertainty about what university life will actually be like.

Here are some key points to consider when you’re deciding whether to take a university place in 2020 or defer until 2021.

The steps you’ll need to take to defer entry will depend on how far through the application process you are, and there are a few practical things that you should bear in mind before you make any final decisions.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to defer entry to university, whether you haven't submitted your application yet or your application is already with Ucas and you've been receiving – and accepting – offers.

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Do all universities and courses allow deferred entry?

No, it’s definitely not guaranteed that you will be able to defer.

If you think you might want to defer before you’ve even made your application, it’s worth checking if this is something that your chosen university would consider allowing. You should be able to find this out by checking the website or asking the admissions team.

When you ask to defer a university place that you’ve already been offered, there are three possible outcomes:

  • The university might agree to let you defer
  • It might say no and you decide to take a year out anyway and then reapply next year
  • It might say no and you decide to scrap your gap year and take your offered place.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that some universities might allow deferred entry for some subjects but not for others, such as medicine.

How do I make a deferred application?

If you already know before you write your application that you’re going to want to take a gap year, you can make a deferred application. So, for example, you could apply at the same time as students starting university in 2020 and defer your start date by a year to 2021.

To make a deferred application, you’ll need to select the deferred entry date – in this example, 2021 – when adding your choices to your Ucas application.

Then, when you write your personal statement, you should explain your reasons for deferring and what you plan to do on your year out – ideally highlighting any of your gap year plans that may be relevant to the skills or knowledge you’ll need to do your course.

The Ucas website says that the reasons you give for deferring “will be taken into account when assessing your application” and  “if you’re applying for deferred entry to uni, you need to think about how your gap year plans will be productive, and enhance your higher education studies. How do they relate to the subject area you plan to study, and how can your plans enhance your application?”.

Your application will go through the same process as applicants planning to start university in 2021 and you might get invited to interviews and receive offers at the same time as students starting in 2020.

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How do I defer entry after I’ve submitted my application?

If you’ve already submitted your application, you might still be able to defer entry.

You’ll need to get in touch with the university to find out if they’re willing to let you defer, and you’ll be asked to explain why you’ve decided that you want to defer at this stage of the process.

They might agree to let you defer, but they also might not. If the university says you can’t defer and you still want to take a year out, you’ll need to reapply next year instead.

Is there a deadline for deferring after I’ve made my application?

There’s no set universal deadline for requesting to defer a year once you’ve made your application.

If you’re considering deferring but haven’t made up your mind yet, you could call up the university’s admissions team to find out if they have a cut-off date for accepting deferral requests.

How long can I defer for?

You can usually only defer by one year – any longer than that and you’ll probably have to go through the applications process from the start again.

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Can I defer and then change my mind and start university this year instead?

It’s a lot trickier to change your mind about deferring university than it is to defer in the first place.

You’ll need to get in touch with the university to ask, but undoing a deferral can be quite a long process and it will depend on how many places are left on the course. This is why it’s best to be absolutely sure before you tell the university that you’d like to defer.

Can I accept a deferred entry place and then decide to switch to a different university instead?

Not that easily – once you’ve accepted a place, that’s where you’ve committed to going and while you hold that place, you won’t be able to apply anywhere else whether it’s for this year or next year.

To be able to apply to other places instead, you’d need to get in touch with the university and ask to be released from the course. You’ll only be able to reapply somewhere else if the university agrees to withdraw your deferred application. 

Will I be able to use Clearing if I’ve accepted a deferred place but decided I want to go somewhere else?

You won’t be able to apply through Clearing using your deferred application. You’ll have to decline your deferred place and then complete a new application.

Is it better to defer entry or to just apply next year instead?

It’s always an option to skip applying to university this year, or turn down any offers if you’ve already applied, and make your application next year instead.

If you’re still at school or college, one benefit of applying for a deferred place is all the support you’ll be able to get from your teachers – they can help you with writing your personal statement and it’ll be easier to get a reference from them if you’re still in regular contact.

Deferring entry will also mean that everything’s sorted and you won’t need to worry about getting a university place next year.

On the other hand, you might prefer to wait for the next application cycle so you know exactly what your grades are before deciding where you want to go.

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