Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.
“I was wondering if you knew what counts as a good reason for deferment?” — BB
Law school admissions officers who receive requests for deferment may be forgiven for wondering why some applicants just won’t take “yes” for an answer. Why apply to law school if you don’t feel ready to go?
The answer is that the admissions process takes many months, and a lot can happen in the meantime. Many applicants found this out last year, when they spent their first year in remote classes due to a global pandemic unimaginable when they first applied.
How Law School Deferment Works
If you are accepted to a law school, you may request to defer admission by a year or two, meaning that you delay your enrollment until then. If your request is approved, you will be required to put down a seat deposit and sign a binding commitment to withdraw from all outstanding waitlists and pending applications. In return, the school promises you may enroll in a future class.
Once you have deferred admission, you may not apply to other law schools. You may, however, decide not to attend after all, in which case you will lose only your seat deposit and perhaps the law school’s goodwill. Violating the terms of a deferment contract may put your future legal career at risk. If state bar examiners find out, it may put your ability to practice law in doubt.
Law schools vary in their openness to deferment. Some are flexible while others rarely grant requests. Hidden factors may influence this decision, like the size of a law school’s waitlist, their forecasts for admissions trends or the strength of your candidacy. Typically, law schools are most receptive to one-year deferments.
It never hurts to ask, even if the odds are uncertain. But your request is most likely to succeed if backed with a good justification.
Reasons for Deferment
Law schools most often grant deferment requests for two reasons. The first is an unexpected circumstance that makes it hard for an applicant to attend law school immediately, such as a medical condition, family emergency or military deployment. Sympathetic to such circumstances, admissions officers may simply let you postpone law school while you resolve the situation.
The second reason would be an extraordinary academic, professional or service opportunity beneficial to the whole law school community. A round-the-world vacation might be a tough sell, but a prestigious fellowship overseas might reflect well on the law school, benefit your future classmates and boost your career.
In both cases, requests for deferment are most likely to succeed if the reason for deferment is unexpected and temporary. For example, if you decide to take a dream job, admissions officers may doubt whether you will really leave for law school after another year. If you request a deferral because of a financial hardship, you will need to explain why an extra year would make a difference.
Other Factors to Consider
Because deferment is a binding commitment, it limits your ability to negotiate for scholarship awards and manage potential waitlist results. So it rarely makes sense to apply to law school with a plan to defer unless, for example, your LSAT scores are more than five years old and due to expire.
However, some law schools allow applicants to indicate in the application process an intention to defer. Others, like Harvard Law School in Massachusetts and Columbia Law School in New York, have special deferred admission programs for undergraduates with postgraduate plans.
International students should note that deferring admission may complicate their ability to remain in the U.S. if their immigration status depends on active enrollment.
How to Request a Law School Deferral
To request a deferral, check your acceptance letter for an official deferral policy. If it isn’t included, ask the admissions office for the school’s policy on deferrals. Most programs require a written request with an explanation. If you have been awarded a scholarship, be sure to ask whether it will transfer if your deferment is granted.
If your deferment request is denied, you can still enroll for the term you were originally accepted for or you could withdraw and reapply to law school when you are ready to attend. If you reapply, be sure to update your application. Perhaps that round-the-world vacation will give you a great new topic for a personal statement after all.
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