The end result of applying to law school is–obviously, some might say–attending once you’ve been admitted. However, for some applicants, for a variety of reasons, this isn’t possible. They may have every intention of attending, but things come up. It could be anything: A once-in-a-lifetime internship in a foreign country, the opportunity to take on a unique one- or two-year assignment, an unforeseen family or personal emergency. In that case, students are put in the unenviable position of having to turn away from what they’ve just spent (in some cases, years) striving for. However, many schools provide an option for students in just these situations that make swallowing that pill a little less bitter: They offer the option of a deferral.
What exactly is deferring? It is a process by which accepted law school applicants can delay matriculation to a law school for a year or longer, without having to reapply when they are ready to begin taking courses. By deferring admission to a law school, applicants effectively accept the admissions offer, delay their first year of classes, and guarantee that their space is held for them until the following year.
Let’s break the deferral process down.
Here’s what needs to happen:
- You must be accepted for admission at the law school in question. Note: your admissions offer must still be valid at the time of your deferment request. For example, if the deposit deadline to hold your seat passes and you have neither paid the deposit nor made a deferment request, the option to defer or even enroll is typically no longer valid.
- While holding a valid admission offer from the school, you make a formal written request for deferment to the school’s admissions office. This request must include a valid reason for deferment, such as sickness, personal issues, employment commitments, delays to a degree currently in progress, or financial constraints. IMPORTANT: The information required in this request and the forms that you must fill out vary from school to school, so it is advisable that you contact the school directly and obtain the information specifically from each school’s admissions office..
There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind:
- Not all law schools offer the option of a deferral (although many do). Many that do offer or consider deferrals often do not advertise this option, so you have to be proactive and contact the admissions office as soon as you know you will need to request a deferral.
- Don’t count your chickens: Your request for a deferment is not automatically granted by the school, and your request can be rejected. If the request is rejected you have two choices: Either enroll for the upcoming semester, or relinquish your hold on a seat and reapply when you are ready to start school..
So what happens if your deferment request is granted? You typically have take the following steps:
- Make a non-refundable seat deposit. This deposit usually ranges from $300-$1000.
- Pay a non-refundable processing fee (this varies somewhat by school).
- Sign an agreement stating that you will not enroll at another law school, accept a deferment offer from another law school, or apply to another law school..
As you can see, the process is school-specific, requires some money, and is not guaranteed. However, for many students, it may be the only choice. A few words of caution, though:
- Students who are granted a deferral request will typically be allowed to defer for only one year; very few schools allow longer deferments.
- Students who are accepted off of a waitlist typically do not have the option to request a deferment.
- Receiving a deferment is rare in most cases; in fact, some schools offer only 5 to 10 deferments per year.
- Accepting a deferment and then applying to another school or enrolling at another law school is looked upon as unethical and can cause serious problems during your State Bar review and inquiry.
- If you choose to defer law school for a year or more without any concrete reason or plans (something that you shouldn’t really do, but some applicants still consider), make productive use of the time off. Focus on something that will help clarify your legal career goals. For example, if you are interested in environmental law but are not unsure as to whether you would enjoy it as a long-term career, get a job related to environmental law in order to clarify your objectives in law school.
- If you know even before you apply to law school that you are going to attempt deferment to pursue further work experience, hold off on applying until you are actually ready to attend law school. An applicant who has some post-graduate work experience is generally viewed as more stable than a graduating senior, thereby giving the working applicant a better chance of admission.
Remember, too, that you can only accept an offer of deferment from one school. You can request deferrals from multiple schools, but you can only accept the offer from a single institution. Make your choices carefully!