There’s a lot of misinformation about deferrals. Let’s review the facts. After you have received an acceptance to medical school, you can request a deferral by submitting a letter or petition to the dean or committee on admissions. The process is different for each school. At most schools, requesting a deferral means that you postpone the date you are scheduled to start medical school by a year. At some schools, you can renew the deferral, if you require more time. However, some schools do not grant deferrals—many Caribbean medical schools do not. Since requests for deferral are reviewed by the dean of admissions or the admissions committee, most commonly, in the best case scenario, you would be granted the deferral and in the worst case scenario, your acceptance could be rescinded—if your request seems inappropriate or unprofessional. If you are considering the possibility of requesting a deferral, here are some things to consider:
1. If requesting a deferral, you may need to provide both a reason for the request and a timeline.
Deferring matriculation is not the same thing as requesting permission to become a “ski bum” or to take a year off from all activities. Many schools request a schedule or timeline for what you plan to do with that year. The deadlines and activities that you include in the timeline will influence the school’s decision.
2. The most commonly accepted deferral requests include requests for additional time to complete a degree program that you are currently enrolled in, a research project and/or service activities or trips that are clinical in nature.
Any kind of unusual academic or professional growth opportunity is highly valued at the medical school level, especially if the experience will enhance your expertise or guide the direction of your medical education and special interests. Hopefully, you’ve planned to complete these activities before the scheduled start date for medical school but if there are unforeseeable changes to the timeline and/or new developments have emerged (either of which would need to be well explained), it is appropriate to ask for a deferral for these situations.
3. Some schools will accept deferrals based on personal reasons while others do not.
Personal requests for deferrals are not accepted by some of the schools that allow deferrals for professional reasons. For example, Albert Einstein College of Medicine will accept deferral requests for professional reasons only, while the University of Massachusetts Medical School only grants deferrals for personal reasons. Harvard Medical School, Tufts School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine are examples of schools that accept both personal and professional deferral requests.
4. If you have a valid personal reason or family emergency, I recommend speaking with an advisor and/or a representative at the schools where you have been accepted.
Since policies vary so widely from school to school, I recommend that you speak with a trusted advisor and/or contact the school to request advice on how to proceed based on your situation. There may be an option or solution that you haven’t considered for your situation. That being said, I don’t recommend contacting the school if you are in a state of crisis. If a death in the family has occurred or some other unfortunate event, take some time to process (and grieve) before making any major decisions. Use good judgment.
If you have any questions about deferrals or applying to medical school, you’re welcome to contact me or one of my colleagues at Accepted for more assistance.Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Want Alicia to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!