Take 4 Steps Before Withdrawing or Deferring Graduate School Admission

Notify the admissions office early if you want to withdraw or defer – don’t just fail to show up.

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Follow the proper protocol for withdrawing or deferring your grad school enrollment.
Follow the proper protocol for withdrawing or deferring your grad school enrollment.

This week we address the second in a series of questions that admitted graduate school students often ask with information about how to handle withdrawing or deferring your graduate school admission.

Ideally, you should apply for the term for which you definitely plan to enroll in graduate school. But sometimes life has a way of altering plans. When that happens, you should feel free to withdraw or to request a deferral.

In my years as a graduate school admissions dean, there were occasions where admitted students asked to defer their admission, or decided to withdraw altogether. Unfortunately, many did not follow proper procedures.

[Learn what steps to take after being admitted to grad school.]

Some never informed the admissions office of their intentions, and simply did not show up at orientation; others applied for admission in a certain term, knowing full well they were not planning to enroll in that term. Still others misrepresented the facts about the reason for their request to defer.

After witnessing the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of how these requests were handled, here are some tips about how to do things the correct way.

1. Make sure you have thought things through: There are times when it is appropriate to withdraw or defer. The two major instances where withdrawal would take place are when a student has decided to attend another institution or has serious reservations, either about graduate school in general or about the program of study to which he or she has been admitted in particular.

[Choose between b-school admission offers with these tips.]

All institutions have deferral policies. In most cases, deferral is granted for extenuating circumstances, such as when students have experienced major changes in finances, resulting in less money in their portfolios or experienced a personal crisis such as a medical emergency or the loss of loved one. However, these circumstances should be able to be verified.

Job changes that also might lead to deferral can include when a student has recently been offered a promotion at a job, been offered a position at another company or had work responsibilities and a salary increase and would like to take advantage of those opportunities.

2. Contact the admissions office: Let the admissions office know as soon as you have made your decision to withdraw or defer. Remember, there are other applicants still interested in this program, and some may be on a waitlist. Having the courtesy to let admissions staff members know of your decision as soon as possible provides them an opportunity to admit someone else in a timely manner.

[Find out how to weigh multiple law school admissions offers.]

3. Accept the decision of the admissions office: In most cases, you can defer for only one year. Often you will be asked to pay an additional enrollment deposit, which – like your initial deposit – is non-refundable. This is the institution's way of making sure you are really serious about joining the student body in the future.

Your request for deferral may be denied. Instead, you will be instructed to withdraw and reapply. While I cannot predict the outcome of doing so, I have rarely seen a situation where an admitted student who withdrew and reapplied – and who clearly explained the reasons for that course of action – was not offered readmission.

4. Make sure you check out the financial aid implications: If you have been awarded a scholarship or fellowship, make sure you find out if this award will still be available to you if you defer. In just about every case, the award is not held if you withdraw.