Medical How to Defer a Medical School Acceptance

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There’s a lot of misinformation out there about deferrals, so let’s review the facts.

How medical school deferment works​

After you have received an acceptance to a medical school, you might be able to defer your scheduled start date by a year. In the best case scenario, you will be granted the deferral; in the worst case scenario, if your request seems inappropriate or unprofessional, your acceptance could be rescinded.

So what do you need to know to maximize your chance of having your deferral request approved?

Need-to-know tips for deferring your medical school acceptance​

The deferral process is different for each school, and some schools do not grant deferrals at all (for example, many Caribbean medical programs do not). At most schools, however, you’ll need to submit a letter or petition to the dean or the admissions committee. For schools that grant deferrals, here are four important tips you should know:

1. Know your reason and timeline.​

You might need to provide both a reason for your deferral 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 ask for a schedule or timeline of what you plan to do during the interim year. The deadlines and activities that you include in this timeline will influence the school’s decision.

2. Pay attention to the “value” of your deferral request.​

The most commonly accepted deferral requests are for additional time to complete a degree program that one is currently enrolled in, an ongoing research project, and/or service activities or trips that are clinical in nature.

Medical schools highly value any kind of unusual academic or professional growth opportunity, 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 have been unforeseeable changes to the timeline and/or new developments have emerged (both of these situations would need to be well explained), it is appropriate to ask for a deferral.

3. Research which schools will accept deferrals based on personal reasons and which will not.​

Personal requests for deferrals are not accepted by some of the schools that allow deferrals for professional reasons. For example, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine will accept deferral requests for professional reasons only, while the University of Massachusetts Medical School grants deferrals only for personal reasons. Harvard Medical School, the Tufts University School of Medicine, and the University of Wisconsin (Madison) School of Medicine and Public Health accept both personal and professional deferral requests.

4. If you have a valid personal reason or family emergency, speak with an advisor and/or a representative at the schools where you have been accepted.​

Because policies vary so widely from school to school, try to speak with a trusted advisor and/or contact the school to request advice on how to proceed, based on your situation. There might be an option or solution that you haven’t considered. 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.

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