Tests. Papers. Research. Studying. Textbooks. Projects. Day after day, month after month. For 12 straight years, you’ve been going to school. Then, senior year ends! Finally, you’re finished. You’ve earned your diploma. And you might be thinking that you’re ready to take a break. Applying to college and figuring out your plans for a future can feel like a full-time job. And you may be wondering if it’s time to just relax and stop focusing on school for a little while.
While a gap year may sound interesting and exciting, it may not be the best option for every student. It’s important to research and understand what a gap year is, and weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding if it’s the right option for you and your future.
What is a GAP Year?
A gap year is the term for when students take time off between high school and college. Though it’s typically called a gap year, some students take more or less time off in between high school and college. Some students just take a semester before starting college, while others take a couple of years before starting their higher education journey.
A gap year gives you time to pursue other goals before returning to the formal structure of school. It can be an appealing option in the following scenarios:
- You want to boost your savings. If you want to avoid student loan debt as much as possible, taking a year off from school can allow you to get a job and save. By tucking your earnings away, you can boost your college fund and reduce the need for loans.
- You feel burnt out. With standardized tests, college admissions essays and end-of-year requirements, your senior year of high school can be exhausting. If you feel drained, taking some time off before enrolling can be a smart idea. You’ll have time to rest and recover so you can go to college refreshed and ready to learn.
- You want to travel. The time before you start college is the perfect time to travel; it’s one of the freest periods of your life. You have relatively few responsibilities, so you’re able to pack up and go abroad for weeks or even months at a time if you have the funds to do so.
- You want to try out a certain field. If you’re not sure which major to choose, a gap year can be helpful. It gives you a chance to work or volunteer in your chosen field. That experience can be invaluable; you can find out if that career path is right for you before you start paying tuition.
Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year
While a gap year can be advantageous for some students, it’s not a good idea for everyone. Here are some things to consider before making your decision:
- A gap year can be a great way to increase your confidence as a student. You can spend time for yourself and really focus on yourself, which can be beneficial before you enter the world of higher education.
- Some colleges encourage it. For example, Harvard encourages students to take a gap year to experience new things and boost their confidence before attending college. Some schools find that students who take a gap year can enrich their campus and will have an enhanced college experience.
- A gap year gives you time to work in your selected field before committing to a particular major—and before spending money on related classes.
- A gap year can help boost your resume by showing you’ve had important volunteer or leadership experiences. This can be a great element on your resume as you go back to college and apply for jobs in the future. And some gap year programs can connect you to meaningful employment down the road.
- Truth be told, a gap year has the potential to teach you much more valuable life lessons than sitting in a classroom ever could. This is especially the case if you decide to spend your year travelling, where you will undoubtedly gain the abilities to live and work independently, which will in turn better prepare you for independent study and living whilst in college.
- It can be expensive. Gap year programs can be extremely expensive, impacting your ability to pay for college and other things down the line.
- Impact college admission. How does a gap year affect college admission? For students who wait to apply until after their gap year, admission standards may change or committees may look less favorably on students who have taken time off. Students taking a gap year may also have difficulty applying for college and meeting deadlines while in a foreign country.
- Some students find that their gap year has delayed their college plans, which in turn will delay their timeline to get a job. For some students, this break or delay in college can hinder them. And some students may never go back if they take time off after high school.
How Gap Years Affect College Acceptance and Financial Aid
Gap Year Implications for College Admissions
Most students applying for a gap year choose to apply to college and defer admission, instead of waiting until the end of their gap year to apply. The admission committee has the final determination in granting a deferral. In most cases, admission committees would like to see a detailed plan for the gap year program and plan for a term, rather than a vague “going to backpack through Europe” or “working for a year.” If the admission committee does not approve your deferral, there is no guarantee of acceptance in future years.
Gap Year Implications for Financial Aid and Scholarships
Taking a gap year also has implications for financial aid and scholarship packages. Even if you don’t plan to accept federal aid, many institutions require submitting the FAFSA as part of the admission and scholarship evaluation process. Students who take a gap year may have to relinquish scholarships or financial aid. Each year colleges and universities are awarded a certain amount of financial aid dollars and scholarships to give away. Deferring your admission or applying to college after the gap year can change your award amount.
Gap Year Implications for FAFSA
Students who choose to take a gap year must re-submit the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) the subsequent academic year. A student who works during the gap year will have to report the income, which could increase the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) and decrease the overall financial award. It’s essential to evaluate both income and other financial obligations when considering how a gap year can affect your FAFSA.
Even if there is no change in income or finances, the FAFSA award may change based on personal circumstances. Families with more than one student in college have a lower EFC per student. A student with an older sibling in college may earn a FAFSA award, but that same award may not be available if the older sibling is no longer in college when a student re-applies to the FAFSA.
Tips for Taking a Gap Year
If you decide to take a year after graduating from high school, here are some tips to help you plan.
1. Plan Out How to Pay for Your Gap Year Expenses
If you plan on delaying enrollment, you may have some added expenses you didn’t consider. You may have to pay for your room and board, as well as transportation. If you intend to travel to see the world or to volunteer, you will likely have to cover the costs of plane tickets, hotel stays and other extras. Those expenses can add up, so you need to create a budget and a plan for how to pay for it.
You have a few options for financing your gap year:
- Scholarships. Some organizations offer scholarships and grants to students planning gap years. You can use the awards to pay for a specific program or to offset your other expenses. Visit the Gap Year Association, EF Gap Year and Go Overseas to find potential opportunities.
- Part-time jobs. Taking on a part-time job in high school and during the first part of your gap year can be an excellent way to gain work experience and build up your savings.
2. Divide the Year Into Segments
To use a gap year wisely, you need to develop a plan for how you’ll spend your time off from school. You may find it helpful to divide the year into segments or semesters to give yourself structure and deadlines.
For example, this is one way to structure gap year:
- August 2021 through December 2021: Volunteer building houses in South America
- January 2022 through May 2022: Internship with a local marketing company
- June 2022 through August 2022: Summer job to save money
- September 2022: Begin college
3. Talk to Your College’s Admissions Office
Contact your chosen school’s admissions office to inform them of your plans and to ask about their gap year policies. While some schools will hold your place for a year, others won’t, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
If your school allows you to defer enrollment, the admissions office may ask for a deposit and a written proposal on how you’ll spend the gap year. In your proposal, be as specific as possible about your plans. Emphasize how the gap year will affect your personal and intellectual growth and how it relates to your selected major.
4. Consider a Structured Gap Year Program
While you can design your own gap year, you may find a structured gap year program more beneficial. Companies and universities create their own gap-year programs. Depending on the program, you could spend weeks or months overseas, learn a new language or complete a rigorous leadership skills program.
5. Look For Volunteer Opportunities
Volunteering can be an excellent way to broaden your worldview and push yourself out of your comfort zone. With gap year volunteer programs, you can build schools overseas, provide disaster relief in your own state or participate in animal conservation.
Is a Gap Year Right for you?
Ultimately the gap year is a powerful opportunity available to virtually any student, to be used for a wide variety of purposes. The advantages of a gap year are varied, ranging from personal development, greater maturity, a mental “recharging” period, and the chance to learn new skills and languages. College is an extremely important time of people’s lives, but many individuals are not ready for college immediately after high school. A gap year is an opportunity with the potential to change college experiences and lives alike, teaching students more about the world- and themselves. Though the gap year is not for everyone, those that do decide to make the leap often have incredible experiences.