The Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year Before College
“I’m taking a year off,” is probably not the response you had in mind when you started senior year of high school.
Taking a gap year has all sorts of connotations. Some might assume you’re going to spend a year gallivanting through Europe. Some might think you aren’t driven, you’re scared of committing to college, you’re not dreaming big enough. Whatever the negative connotations surrounding the gap year, for many students, taking a break has professional, personal, and financial benefits that you’ll reap for years to come. Even Harvard encourages students to take a gap year to learn more about themselves.
Not everyone has the confidence or determination to take a year off, however, the amount of students taking gap years is increasing. According to AGA, “between 30,000 and 40,000 students are taking time off for a semester or more. The group says that figure is up 23 percent year over year.”
What would you do if you had a year between high school and college to figure things out? If you could save money, or travel, learn some new skills, or some combination of all three...would you do it?
Are you thinking about doing a gap year? Not sure whether it’s the right choice for you? Here are some of the pros and cons.
Pros of Taking a Gap Year
1. You’ll save money.
You’ve heard it before. Higher education is a huge investment. Taking time off to work and save money will support your long term financial stability. Starting out with savings before taking on the student loans and debt will help you have one less thing to worry about as you start school.
2. You’ll learn more about yourself and what your passions are.
If you are going back and forth about what you want to study and have no idea where to begin to narrow it down, taking a year off could be the right choice for you. You’ve spent the majority of your life in school thus far, so this is a chance for you to have new experiences, meet new people, and ultimately gain a new perspective on the world -- which will help narrow down what you are interested in.
Tip: Many schools have programs for undecided students to gain credits while exploring options. “Undecided” doesn’t mean you automatically need to take a year off. But, if something in your gut tells you that you should take a gap year, take a moment to reflect on your own pros and cons.
3. You’ll be more prepared for college.
Whether you were the “C” student or not, the Gap Year Association found that “taking a gap year had a significant positive impact on students' academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution.”
Tip: If you plan on taking a gap year, set specific goals for yourself of what you want to be getting out of your year. Make the most of your time. Can you take some free online classes? For the cost conscious, think about taking short weekend trips to cities and towns near you. The more people and places you connect with, the more perspective you’ll gain.
Cons of Taking a Gap Year
1. Getting “off track.”
Going off course is a great way to grow and challenge yourself. There is no one “right” path for any student, since everyone is on their own path. However, taking time off could lead losing momentum. Don’t let the temptation to watch Netflix and hang out with friends cloud your true reason for taking time off. Setting clearly defined goals is going to be essential to your success and your growth throughout the gap year.
2. Having to re-apply to college.
Going through the application process all over again might deter you from the gap year. However, some colleges will allow you to defer your admissions. Check with the admissions departments at the colleges that accepted you to see if they will allow you to defer your enrollment for a year.
3. Having to explain yourself.
Not everyone is going to be supportive or understanding of your choice. The path that works for you might not fit the expectations of others. Your parents, teachers, friends, and family all have an idea of what you should do. It can be difficult to go against the grain, but you’ll find that the risk is well worth it.
What you should do during a gap year:
Learn new skills through work and/or an internship
Take a class or two (or more!) on subjects you’re interested in
Applying for college after a gap year
If you are a senior and have decided to take a gap year, let the colleges you’ve already applied to know of your decision, they may be able to defer your admission for a year. As you are applying after your gap year, be sure to talk about it in your college essay, your challenges, struggles, and the difficult and rewarding decisions you made along the way.