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Three steps to help your child decide whether or not to defer their university place this year

Many students are in a quandary about university deferrals. Some who are due to start their courses in September this year feel uncertain about what might lie ahead since coronavirus has led to key changes in the way universities run their courses. With social distancing and online learning playing a much larger part in education, will their experience be what they had hoped or will it be better to wait until 2021, when things have settled?


If your child is wondering whether it might be better to defer their university place to 2021 (or to cancel their deferral and start in 2020), read on to discover three steps to helping them make the right decision.


1. Quality of education

Following Cambridge University’s announcement that all their lectures will take place online for the academic year 2020-2021, many universities are considering moving to online teaching and supervision.

Feedback on the quality of education universities have provided during lockdown has varied, sparking concerns that, in some cases, students could be paying full fees without receiving the quality of education offered previously. Since lockdown took effect, universities and colleges have been able to dedicate more time and resources into improving their online capabilities and are likely to offer better options in September and beyond. Progress will continue as the digital world innovates and expands.


Most universities have not ruled out face-to-face learning, with some suggesting that seminars and smaller sessions are likely to go ahead so long as renewed lockdown restrictions do not prevent this. This means your child might benefit from a mix of online and face-to-face learning or 'blended learning', offering them greater flexibility in their approach to study. A degree that has been earned through a mix of online and face-to-face learning could well have more value in the workplace, because it reflects better how business takes place. Additionaly, remote working is likely to become increasingly important to many businesses in the future, so learning online will develop extremely valuable skills needed in the modern workplace, and could prove an advantage.

Whether universities revert to previous teaching methods in September 2021 (assuming the threat from coronavirus has abated) is uncertain. Successful implementation of online learning may well mean it’s here to stay. Therefore, if the reason for deferral is to avoid online learning, whilst this will possibly be reduced in September 2021, it’s unlikely to be eliminated completely.


2. State of the economy

The economic consequences of coronavirus and lockdown are likely to be far reaching. The slowdown in the economy is now visibly hitting the labour market, with job losses, reduced working hours and a fall in the number of entry level jobs, internships and placements offered to young people. Some economic forecasters have suggested that it may take up to three years to recover from the effects coronavirus has had on the UK and for the economy to return to levels of growth seen in 2019.

If your child is thinking about deferring their place at university in favour of working or applying for an internship, then it is important to encourage them to think carefully about how their industry or sector might have been affected by the economic slowdown. With many organisations choosing not to take on additional employees, a year out may prove fruitless.

Likewise, if they hope to enjoy a gap year to work and travel, there will be limited opportunities this year. Those students that included a deferral in their application may find it better to ask not to defer and enjoy their gap year once their further education is over, the economy has picked up and travel restrictions have been completely lifted.

With current predictions suggesting the UK economy could return to its pre-coronavirus levels by 2023, choosing to start university now could be well timed: graduating in 2023 just as the job market begins to recover.


3. Missing out on the university experience

Freshers week, clubs, societies, living in halls of residences and social events in student unions are an important part of the university experience. Many young people feel that the impact of social distancing will mean they miss out on the typical university experience – particularly on opportunities to make new friends and develop new hobbies.

It’s true that freshers week will look and feel different this year, but universities and their student bodies are working extremely hard to provide starters with opportunities to meet new people, take part in social events and join clubs, societies and sporting groups – albeit slightly differently. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, this will provide universities with opportunities to combine some face-to-face interactions with virtual and online meetups. This unique situation could result in some interesting experiences! Of course, as coronavirus is controlled, social opportunities will open again.


Final words

If your child is still unsure about whether or not to defer their place at university, then a good starting point is to focus to their alternative options. Can they come up with a better plan on how they might like to spend the next year? For some, applying for a deferral will be the right choice, even if this means reapplying to university next year. However, for most students who had planned on starting university this year, sticking to this will be the best option. Simply deferring a place to “wait until things get back to normal” probably isn’t a good idea. Ultimately, the decision to defer is a personal choice and one which your child will need to make for themself.


For details on the deferral process and how it works, read on.


The deferral process - What is deferring?

Deferring is when a student applies for a university course in one year, with the intention of starting the course the next year – i.e. taking a year out. They might do this for a number of reasons, although the most popular is to take a gap year and gain broader practical experience before continuing their further education. So, a student might apply to university in 2020 with the aim of starting in 2021. This provides them with the security of knowing they have a university place confirmed but allows them a year-long break between finishing sixth form study and beginning further education. This “time out” might give them a chance to travel, volunteer, earn money and develop or learn new skills that will help them get more out of their studies later.

Students can:

  • apply for a deferred place when they make their application;

  • change their mind after their application and apply to defer their place later; or,

  • withdraw a deferred application and start university the same year.

For the latter two options, they must contact the university directly.


Why are deferrals so relevant this year?

According to a report published by London Economics for the University and College Union (“UCU”) in May this year, around 20% of UK students are considering deferring their university place to September 2021 as a result of coronavirus changing the way universities run their courses.

For students who have already applied to university to start in autumn 2020, but now want to delay their start until autumn 2021, they will need to approach their first and second choice universities directly to see whether the universities will agree to a deferral. Universities are not obliged to agree, so if your child has their heart set on a university start in 2021, they may need to withdraw their existing application and reapply next year as an independent student – with the risk that they may not get an offer second time around.

On the other hand, if your child applied for a deferred place but now wants to start university this year instead of next, they also have to contact their first and second choice universities directly, but they can keep their existing place if universities are unable to bring their start date forward.


How to defer


The typical way to defer a place at university is to choose the ‘deferred entry start date’ when making an application through UCAS. Usually, students will provide clear reasons for deferring in their personal statement and their plans for what they will do during this time. Applications for deferred entry will go through the same process as ordinary applications where students will receive offers and need to confirm their choices by the deadlines set out by UCAS. If they received the grades set out in their offer, their place at the university is secured for the following year.

Can my child defer if they have already confirmed their university choices through UCAS?


If your child is choosing to defer their place at university once their application has been submitted, then they will need to contact their chosen university directly. It is likely that the university will ask for clear reasons for deciding to defer so it’s important your child can articulate their reasons before making the call. Some universities may not allow deferral at this point and decline your child’s request to do so. If this is the case and your child still wants to start the university the following year then they will need to withdraw their application and reapply next year as an independent student.

Can they defer after getting their results?

With grades for sixth form qualifications being awarded without exams or usual assessment, your child’s results may not be quite what they expected. If upon receiving their grades they choose to defer their place, then they will need to contact the university directly and seek advice.

Can my child apply for deferral through Clearing?

Your child will not be able to apply for a deferred place on a course through Clearing. Clearing is designed to fill university courses for the same academic year and is typically for students that missed out on a place in their original course or have changed their mind.

What if my child deferred their place and wants to start this year?


If your child has an offer for a deferred place but now wants to start their course this year, they will need to contact the university directly and explain their reasons. This will depend largely on whether the university has places available to change the conditions set out in their original offer.

Alternatively, your child can choose to start this academic year by finding an available course through Clearing.


What if my child is unable to defer their current offer, but still want to start next year?


If your child is really set on starting university in 2021, but is unable to defer their current offer then they can choose to withdraw their application and reapply next year as an independent student. One positive of this is that your child will already know their grades and will have more time to think about where and what they might want to study. However, with many students opting to start university next year, places may be more competitive and there is no guarantee that your child will receive the same offer if they choose to apply to the same universities next year.


Still have a question? Check out our parent Q&A pages to browse through answers to common questions, or ask your own - we'll always try to help where we can!

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Wherever we refer to ‘parents’ we mean ‘parents and carers.’ This includes grandparents, older siblings or any other  person with significant caring responsibilities for children.