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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

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

Deferring from university 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 2023 with the aim of starting in 2024. 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 2024 as a result of coronavirus changing the way universities run their courses.

For students who have already applied to university to start in autumn 2023, but now want to delay their start until autumn 2024, 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 2024, 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.

male student university socially distant deferrng university to 2021 coronavirus defer

How does the process work?

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.

male student university first day defer deferral coronavirus UCAS

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 next year, 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.

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. Ultimately, the decision to defer is a personal choice and one which your child will need to make for themself.


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