Is It a Good Idea to Take a Gap Year?

What is a gap year?

Is It a Good Idea to Take a Gap Year?

Published April 20, 2020 | Last Updated December 18th, 2023 at 12:08 pm

What is a gap year?

Gap years are popular in Europe, but only recently have gained traction in the United States.  According to US News & World Report, “40,000 to 60,000 students take a gap year each year.”  The idea gained popularity when, in 2016, Malia Obama took a gap year before entering Harvard and traveled to Bolivia and Paraguay.

What Is a Gap Year?

A gap year is typically a year-long break before or after college/university during which students engage in various educational and developmental activities, such as travel or some type of regular work. 

Students typically request deferments which have to be approved by the institution.

Approval of a deferment isn’t guaranteed and can possibly affect financial awards and scholarships.

Additionally, schools with highly selective criteria for admissions may not be as open to deferments as there are more than enough applicants waitlisted for any given spot. 

How to Request a Gap Year

Gap years are not guaranteed. Every college has their individual process, but deferments must be requested.

  1. Inquire about your college’s deferral policy or check the American Gap Year Association’s database for detailed information organized by state. 
  2. Next, if you’re a financial aid or scholarship recipient, confirm what the policy is regarding securing this funding until the next year. 
  3. Make detailed plans for how you’re going to spend your gap year.   Some colleges require this as part of the deferral application.
  4. Be sure to submit your request before the deadline and adhere to all requirements stipulated during the deferral period.

Why a Gap Year Is a Good Idea

Taking a gap year could provide a good opportunity for your studnet. 

  • After all, one of the top reasons students choose a gap year is due to academic burnout. With the academic load, combined with the athletic load and extracurricular load, many students feel exhausted by senior year. A gap year gives them time to rest and recharge.
  • A gap year could also be used as a period of introspection, to really figure out what a student wants to study and do with their lives. 
  • Some students are also not emotionally ready for college, and this year of respite can give them more time to mature. 
  • We should also consider the student who needs the chance to gather some funds for college. Getting a job and saving during this period would give them a great start.

Why a Gap Year Is a Bad Idea

The decision to take a gap year is one that should not be handled lightly.

You and your student need to really delve into why they feel the need to skip a year.

Not taking all the ramifications of what skipping a year could mean (both positive and negative) could negatively impact your student.

  • When pursuing certain fields of study, for example, medicine, a year off  can have a marked effect, and one year can be a lifetime.
  • On a basic level, knowing that their friends will be experiencing college while they are doing something else may cause them to develop an extreme case of FOMO.
  • The belief that they’ll be left behind and not progressing at the same pace as their counterparts could eventually wear on a teenager, possibly causing them to regret their ultimate decision.
  • Other obstacles to the gap year can be the associated expenses. 
  • A great majority of students cannot afford to support themselves while traveling or living during this period.
  • A college education is an opportunity to have their education and expenses funded simultaneously, while expediting the process of becoming employed and financially independent.
  • The obvious risk in this is a student getting comfortable in that job and postponing college indefinitely.

What Can Students Do During a Gap Year?

Get a Job

This tends to be the way many students spend their gap year, out of necessity.

 Earning money before starting college can help pay tuition and for other ancillary expenses.

It also has the potential of lowering student debt.

Some students also see this as a way of garnering valuable work experience.

Find an Internship

An internship gives students the chance to “taste” different careers.

What better way to see if one wants to pursue a specific career than by experiencing it firsthand?

Sometimes an internship can result in a student declaring that particular career is one they do not want to pursue.

In this case, eliminating a career is just as valuable as confirming one.

Good internships can be hard to come by.

When looking for an internship always choose one based on the quality of the experience as opposed to the salary.

For a student taking a gap year, building experiences will prove more valuable in the long term than earning a higher salary in the short term. 

Start a Business

We exist in the era of start-ups. Owning a business is no longer seen as being far-fetched or feeding a pipe dream. 

For the entrepreneurial student, taking the risk of opening a business may seem more palatable before going to college. 

At this point in their lives, they may have very few responsibilities and can afford to live a leaner lifestyle.

Giving it a shot at this stage may eliminate any regrets in the future.

Volunteer

A gap year is the perfect time to be philanthropic. 

For students interested in medicine, social work, project management, etc, having opportunities to get real-life experience in the field is invaluable.  In addition, volunteering gives students the opportunity to ensure they enjoy the field they want to enter.

Travel

Once a student graduates and starts working full-time, lengthy travel can be difficult. A gap year provides the time a student needs to follow their passion and see the world.  

Students can also combine travel with volunteering in other parts of the world where the need is overwhelming.

Classes at Community College

Some students who are unsure of which direction or major they want to pursue might look into taking some classes at a local community college.

While this will potentially get some general courses out of the way, students would have to check with any individual four-year institution to see whether those credits will transfer. In addition, if those courses are taken after the student graduates from high school, some four-year institutions will then count the student as a transfer, not a freshman, which may affect scholarship opportunities.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Taking a gap year is a personal decision that should not be taken lightly.

Some things to consider are your reasons for taking the time and how it will affect your personal circumstances.

Consider how you’ll be able to leverage the experience gained. How will the experience change your outlook, and even your chosen major?

Seek experienced counsel and examine your individual circumstances.

If done right, despite the pandemic, this period could be the most rewarding and eventful time of your life.  

More on Gap Years

We did a Facebook Live on taking a gap year during the height of the pandemic that is still relevant.

Betsy Jewell discussed programs and all of the options to students that are available with Jane and Jason Sarouhan of J2Guides.

You can watch the video here.

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Other Articles You Might Like:

Why Taking a Gap Year Could Be a Senior’s Best Next Decision

How My Son’s Gap Year Paid Off

Community College Changed My Life

 

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