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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

Defer or endure? Pandemic complicates college admissions

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the April 29, 2020 edition.


High school seniors deciding on their college plans for the fall face a unique challenge: Will their chosen school be open for in-person instruction and, if not, will online instruction look as inconsistent as the current high school online instruction? So, should you consider deferring admission and take a gap year?

The first thing to recognize is that true online education – courses designed to be conducted online – is different from conducting an in-person course online. Even now, universities are scrambling to create better delivery mechanisms and redesigning coursework to take advantage of native online learning tools.

The second is to acknowledge it is not just about where you start your college, but where you graduate. Yes, online instruction definitely does not replace the “full” college experience, but that choice may not be available for a while. At this point, we just don’t know.

You should further understand the pros and cons of deferring as it relates to admission, costs and scholarships, gap programs and delaying career or graduate school plans for a year.

  • Admissions. Do you need to reapply (and therefore compete not only with your peers who defer, but also with the Class of 2021), or will the university hold your spot? The former comes with the risk of losing a spot you’ve already earned.

  • Costs and scholarships. Will the university lock in your tuition, or does it rise every year, meaning delaying will increase your total costs? Will the university hold your scholarships, or do you lose them or need to reapply to be eligible?

  • Gap programs. What will you do with your time? You will need to complete a form describing how you will use your gap year. You cannot earn college credits, even at a community college. As soon as you take college courses, your deferral is voided and you will be considered a transfer student – losing all scholarships and privileges of a first-year student. You will need to reapply as a transfer student.

  • Delaying career or graduate school opportunities. In a world of employment uncertainty, you will need to consider whether delaying your college graduation will negatively or positively impact your entrance into the workforce or graduate school.

Colleges are aware of students’ hesitations during this uncertain period. However, they are also aware that they must carry on. Most will limit the number of students they allow to defer and will be looking to support those who are the most impacted by COVID-19. That may include students who have had a family member get infected or die, who have parents who have lost their jobs and income, and who have made productive plans for delaying a year.

Hollis Bischoff is college admissions adviser for CollegeUnlocked. For more information, email

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