A “gap year” is when high school graduates take a year off before heading to college. It’s often thought of as a time for young adults to travel or work and “find themselves.” Many don’t even consider it an option, especially for low-income students. 

But recent studies have suggested that many high school students are considering a gap year because of the coronavirus college. In fact, one in six high-school seniors have largely given up their plans to attend college this year. About 21% of students surveyed said their top school would “no longer be affordable” while 12% told A&SG that family health concerns were enough to keep them away from college next semester.

Families who had a job loss, income change or experienced unreimbursed medical expenses due to coronavirus, can appeal for more financial aid.

A gap year, whether due to COVID-19 or personal preference, can help reduce the amount of student loan debt.

 Colleges That Support a Gap Year

  • Harvard University grants admitted students a one year deferral to travel, pursue a special project and work for a gap year.
  • The Jonathan M. Tisch College at Tufts University offers a one-year program where students can do full-time community service and even offers financial aid for it.
  • Florida State University not only encourages a gap year, but provides an opportunity for financial assistance ($5,000) to support it.

How a Gap Year Could Reduce Student Loan Debt

Work to reduce the amount you need to borrow. If your parents weren’t able to save for college or didn’t save enough, a gap year could help. Working full-time from the day you graduate until your gap year is over could help you build a nest egg to help pay for college. The average annual earnings for a minimum wage employee in the U.S. are $15,080.

If you are able to, continue to save for college. If you have a 529 college savings plan, check out the UNest app. The app allows you to manage monthly contributions to your account and receive gifts from family and friends. 

Figure out what you want to do. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about a third of college students change their major at least once during the first three years in college. About 10% of college students change their major two or more times.

Changing a major can often result in you paying for courses that you didn’t need to take, resulting in more student loan debt. Changing your major often adds a semester or two to your college education, which can increase college costs.

Taking a gap year to crystalize your choice of academic major can help you graduate on time. A gap year could allow you to feel more confident about your choice of major and career path.

You could take the time to research your different options by reaching out to professionals in that career for greater insight, look into opportunities to shadow professionals, take an internship and better ponder all of your options.

Almost 60 percent of people who have completed a gap year say their experience them decide what to study in college, according to the American Gap Association.

Other Advantages of a Gap Year 

Students who have taken a gap year report more career satisfaction, according to a study by Temple University.

From a survey from the American Gap Association, more than 80 percent said a gap year helped them be more successful in their career and helped them (or will help them) land a job.

A gap year could teach you independence and many other skills.

Disadvantages of a Gap Year

Scholarships and financial aid may be impacted by taking a gap year. You’ll need to see your college’s policy on deferred admission. Private scholarships may also be affected.

A gap year means you’ll delay graduating and working full-time. 

You can lose momentum. While the number is small, 10% of gap year participants don’t return to college, according to the Gap Year Association.

If your gap year consists of traveling without working, it is going to obviously have negative impacts financially.

Other Resources for a Gap Year

  • AmeriCorps
  • Australia Work and Holiday Visa Program
  • CityYear
  • FSD
  • Outward Bound
  • Partners of the Americas
  • Rustic Pathways: gap.rusticpathways.com Uses travel and service to achieve sustainable development.
  • Student Conservation Association
  • United Planet
  • Volunteers for Peace
  • WorldTeach
  • World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

Bottom Line:  If you are opting to take a gap year, make sure it is one that is structured with clear goals.

At Savingforcollege.com, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.