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Can You Defer Medical School? (UK Universities)

Can You Defer Medical School? (UK Universities)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Deciding to pursue a medical degree is a significant commitment, and you may be wondering if it’s possible to defer medical school in the UK.

Students can apply for a deferred place for medical school at the majority of UK universities. This allows a student to take a year out prior to attending university. The exact application process and justification required does however vary between institutions.

In most cases, deferring entry to university is possible, but it depends on the specific medical school and their policies.

Each medical school has its own rules and procedures for deferring entry so if you’re considering it I’d always recommend getting in contact with the universities you’re planning on applying to.

Deferred Entry To Medical School

Some institutions, like the University of Oxford, require you to discuss your plans at an interview and then write to the Director of Clinical Studies to request permission to defer your entry after being offered a place.

In other cases, medical schools may not encourage, or even allow, deferred entry in their courses.

It is crucial to research the medical schools you’re considering and contact them directly to determine whether deferral is an option.

Understanding the policies and requirements of each institution will allow you to make an informed decision that best suits your needs as an applicant.

A young woman planning which medical schools she should apply to
Planning which medical schools to apply to

In 2021, the University of Exeter actually offered students wanting to study medicine free accommodation and a £10,000 cash incentive if they were willing to defer their course for a year.

This was due to a record number of students applying for medical degrees, leading to capacity constraints.

In other cases, students with places at oversubscribed medical schools in England were asked to move to a course at a different university.

Deferring your medical school enrolment is a decision that you need to consider carefully, but it’s much easier to come up with a plan once you understand the deferral processes.

Reasons For Deferring University

There are various reasons why you might consider deferring your medical school in the UK.

Can You Defer Medical School Pixel Infographic

Each individual’s circumstances are unique, and the decision to defer should be based on your own needs and goals. That being said, here are some common reasons for deferring university:

Gap year: Taking a gap year can provide an opportunity to explore new interests, gain work experience, or travel before committing to your medical studies. This can help you gain a broader perspective and make informed decisions about your future career. Keep in mind that you should mention your gap year plans in your UCAS application if you want to request deferred entry.

Personal or family circumstances: Sometimes, unforeseen events or personal situations might lead you to defer your medical degree. This could include health issues, family responsibilities, or personal commitments that need your attention during the academic year.

Financial reasons: Medical school can be expensive, and deferring your studies might give you more time to save money or access additional funding. For example, by deferring and working full-time for a year, you could save up a significant sum of money that you could then use to fund your time at university.

Alternate Opportunities: You may have received a job offer or an opportunity to participate in a volunteer program that aligns with your career goals. In such cases, deferring your medical school entry could give you the chance to explore these avenues without having to give up your offer.

Pros And Cons Of Deferred Entry

In this section, I’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of deferring medical school in the UK, helping you make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue it.

Pros Of Deferring

  1. Personal Growth and Independence: Taking a year out can give you the opportunity to explore new experiences, engage in volunteer work, or travel. This can help you develop a sense of self-reliance and independence.
  2. Increased Focus and Motivation: A break from academics may help you refocus your priorities and rekindle your passion for medicine, making you a more motivated student when you start medical school.
  3. Gaining Work Experience: Deferred entry allows you to gain practical experience related to medicine or develop new skills in a different field.

Cons Of Deferring

  1. Loss of Momentum: It’s possible that taking a break from your studies could lead to a loss of academic focus, making it challenging to regain your study habits once you return to academia.
  2. Financial Impact: Deferring medical school could increase your student loans and cost of living expenses since you’ll be delaying the start of your professional career.
  3. Limited Deferred Entry Options: Not all medical schools in the UK offer deferred entry options, which could limit your choices of institutions to which you can apply.

How Do You Defer Entry To Medical School?

To defer entry to a medical school in the UK, you need to follow a few steps:

  1. Contact the medical school: Reach out to the admissions office of the medical school you have been accepted to and inquire about their deferral policies. Policies may vary between institutions, so it’s essential to understand the specific requirements of the school you’re planning to attend.
  2. Submit a deferral request: If the medical school permits deferrals, you will likely be asked to submit a formal deferral request. This may involve providing a written explanation of your reasons for deferring, along with any relevant supporting documentation. Make sure to submit your request within the deadlines set by the institution.
  3. Await a response: Once you’ve submitted your deferral request, be patient while the admissions office reviews your application. They may request additional information or clarification before making a decision.
  4. Follow up: If granted a deferral, ensure that you understand any conditions or requirements associated with the deferral, such as maintaining certain academic standards or completing specific coursework. Keep in touch with the medical school and notify them of any changes in your circumstances or plans during the deferral period.

Remember, deferring entry to medical school is not guaranteed. Each institution has its own policies and procedures, so it’s crucial that you communicate with the admissions office and follow their guidelines closely.

Alternatives To Deferral

If you are considering deferring your medical school entry in the UK, it’s worth exploring some alternatives to ensure you make an informed decision.

Consider a gap year – You could take a gap year without a deferred offer in order to gain experience or develop new skills. This can be an enriching experience and may even make your medical school application stronger. For example, you could engage in research opportunities, volunteer work in the healthcare sector, or travel to gain a broader perspective on health issues.

Switch courses – If you are unsure about your choice of medical school or course, you can explore alternative courses within the university or consider applying to a different university.

Work part-time while studying – If your reason for deferring is due to financial concerns, consider finding a part-time job while attending medical school. Though working part-time during medical studies can be challenging, it can help you gain valuable experience and build a professional network.

Preparing For Medical School After Deferral

During your deferral year, it’s essential to make the most of the time and prepare yourself effectively for your medical school journey. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

Firstly, use some of your time to take full advantage of the opportunity to gain more experience in the medical field. You can do this by seeking out internships, job shadowing, volunteering, or taking part-time jobs in clinics, hospitals, or research facilities.

This way, you’ll expand your knowledge and skills while showing your commitment to the field- medical schools will often expect you to use at least part of your time productively.

However, don’t forget to focus on your physical and mental well-being during your deferral year as well.

One of the most important aspects of this year before university is that you enjoy it! It really is somewhat of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lastly, you can utilise this valuable time to develop soft skills such as communication, time management, and empathy, which are all essential for a successful medical career.

You could offer your time as a volunteer with a charity, either within the UK or abroad; engage in a team sport; or enhance your collaboration and leadership abilities by getting involved with a community organisation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you defer medical school for any reason?

The justification that students may require to defer their place at medical school varies between institutions. Some universities will allow students to defer for any reason, while others may require extenuating circumstances if a deferral request was not made clear from the start of the application.

How many years can you defer entry for?

Generally, most medical schools in the UK allow deferral for one year, but this may be extended in exceptional cases. It’s essential to discuss your specific situation with the medical school’s admissions office to obtain accurate information about their deferral policies.

Can you take a gap year during medical school in the UK?

Taking a gap year during medical school in the UK is a possibility, but it is subject to the approval of the institution you’re attending. Each medical school has its own policies and procedures regarding gap years, and you must meet their criteria to be granted a leave of absence.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t defer or take a gap year before I went to medical school and to be honest, I’ve always slightly regretted it.

When I arrived at medical school everyone who did take a year out before university seemed to all have incredible stories about the adventures they got up to before coming to study medicine.

By deferring your place at medical school, you can take a year out confident in the knowledge that you’ve got an offer in the bag.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.