Pre-Law Advising


Deferring is the process by which you can delay matriculation into law school for a year or two after acceptance.

Understanding Deferral

Deferring is the process by which you can delay matriculation into law school for a year or two after acceptance. You must specifically request a deferral and law schools are under no obligation to grant you one. Generally, deferrals are allowed for specific reasons such as fellowships, enriching work, academic opportunities, or compelling personal circumstances. Deferrals must be requested in writing shortly after you have been admitted and are decided on a case-by-case basis. Criteria and rules for deferral vary from school to school. Thus, before requesting a deferral from any law school, be sure you fully understand their deferral policy.

Two-Year Deferral Programs

Harvard and Columbia have a process for applying at the end of your junior year, with a two-year deferral. The Harvard Junior Deferral Program (JDP) and the Columbia Leadership Experience Admission Deferral (LEAD) are two-year deferral programs – that is, you are admitted with an automatic two-year deferral after you graduate from Brown. These applications are great for the schools, because they entice highly qualified applicants who are nearly certain to attend. They can be great for the right students as well, if you are certain that you want to attend one of these schools, and are certain that you want to take several years between Brown and law school to work, study, travel or otherwise enrich your experience. Harvard’s program has an application deadline in mid-June after your junior year. Columbia’s program is designed for students who plan to have a leadership experience or cultivate leadership skills for two years after college.


Each law school has its own specific policy and requirements for deferrals so you would need to reach out to the school directly.

You have two options in this situation. The first is to attend law school in the term that you were accepted as expected. The second would be to turn down your acceptance and apply again in the next cycle.

Each school has its own policy for the length of a deferral but most will allow only one year while others will allow up to two. 

We do not recommend applying to law school with the plan to defer. Instead, wait until you are ready to matriculate following the next application cycle. Deferrals may not always be granted so to depend on receiving one is not a strong strategy. 

We do not recommend applying to law school with the intention of asking for a deferral. If you believe you will need an additional year or two before attending law school, we strongly advise you to postpone your application until you know that you are ready to start your legal education. This can not only help you gain clarity about your decision to pursue legal education and career, but can also strengthen your admission credentials. Consult with the Pre-Law advisors if you have questions about timing your law school application or considering a deferral request once admitted.

While Columbia's program does not appear to discourage reapplication, Harvard's admission dean has been very clear that if you apply to the JDP, their expectation is that you really want to take two years after college to do something other than law school and they do not want to see your application in the next cycle.