On Taking a Gap Year

It’s not uncommon for students to take a year off (more commonly known as a gap year) between high school and college. Some students take gap years to improve their credentials for college admissions and then apply to college for the next year, and other students put in a deposit at a college and then defer admission for a year. This is a good idea for those who

  • did not sufficiently apply themselves in high school.
  • want to have a fuller, more complete college application.
  • are not quite ready for college.
  • need to earn some money.
  • want to take a year off between high school and college to participate in a service program or travel experience.

So what do you do with a whole year? While you may see this year as an opportunity to relax, it is critical that you do NOT sit on your butt for the entire year. If you are taking a gap year to improve your credentials, this should not be a problem as you are trying to enhance yourself as a college applicant. For those who plan to defer admission, it is important to know the school’s policy on doing so. Some schools will not allow you to defer, but if you have been offered a scholarship there might be some additional hoops to jump through at a few schools. Sometimes, colleges will only allow you to defer admission if you have a really good reason. Like if you plan on doing something spectacular with your year.

Other colleges flat out encourage you to take gap years like Princeton and Harvard. Studies actually show that students who take gap years do better in college. Even after controlling for income and high school achievement, students at Middlebury who took gap years graduated with significantly higher GPAs than their counterparts who did not. Some students report being reinvigorated about their education after taking a year off from their academic sprint.

Here are some ideas of things to do during your gap year:

  • Go Abroad Princeton University has a formal Bridge Year Program that selects 9 accepted students to spend a year between high school and college volunteering in countries across the globe. Numerous other programs exist to support students taking a gap year abroad. They range from free to over $50,000.
  • Volunteer Some programs like CityYear have positions designed for students who are taking a gap year. They’ll provide housing, room, board, a small stipend, and even college scholarships.
  • Get a Job or an Internship Pick up some extra cash and get some work experience under your belt. You could flip burgers or work for a congress person. Anything goes.

Finally, what are the benefits of taking a gap year? What are the drawbacks?

Benefits

  • This is the first break from school that you’ve had in a while (or ever, for that matter,) so you will be refreshed and ready to start learning again come the new school year.
  • Get a chance to earn some money to spend on college tuition or other college-related expenses.
  • Gain a new perspective and go into college with a greater degree of maturity.

Drawbacks

  • Once you return, you’re not quite in sync with your classmates (just because you are now a year older than your peers).
  • Sometimes it might be hard to see your friends from high school enjoying themselves at college while you’re working/volunteering/traveling/etc.
  • Some people say that students who take gap years might decide to never go back to school because they love their gap year so much or something. Personally, I wouldn’t worry about this as a drawback. Then again I’m bored out of my mind by the end of summer vacation, so a gap year would just be too much for me.