Expert advice on taking a gap year before college

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Lulu Curiel

By Lulu Curiel

April 5, 2018

Taking a gap year before college is popular among students in Europe, and has recently gained traction among U.S. students. Due to the pressures of academics in high school, and the urgency to get into the “best” college possible, many students are delaying their entrance into college by taking the time to recharge. Before packing your bags to an international destination, here are some things students should understand about taking a gap year:

Not all universities allow a gap year 

The policies vary from program to program. If students are interested in delaying their admission for a year, or in some cases two years, they will need to outline their plans during their time off. 

Some universities have strict policies around a student’s commitment to their program, while others encourage students to take time off. For example, each year at Harvard University between 80 and 110 students defer their enrollment to the College. Harvard admission letters even go to the extent to strongly suggest that students consider taking the time to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way. Like Harvard, some universities believe that taking time off before college helps a student focus and avoids burn out. 

How do students spend their gap year?

Students spend their gap year a myriad of ways. Some study abroad to learn a foreign language or to volunteer with an organization they are passionate about. Others take classes, travel to gain perspective or participate in political campaign work. Regardless of how you spend your gap year, the premise is that students should remove themselves from traditional academia and gain personal growth from new experiences.

Advantages and disadvantages of a gap year

Students who participate in taking a gap year feel that once they enroll in college, they are recharged and more focused, confident and motivated in their studies. Others are more prone to knowing what they want to study as a major, because they have taken the time to learn about themselves and who they want to be.

The biggest disadvantage of taking a gap year is the cost. However, those who typically engage in taking a gap year come from higher-income families who can afford the costs of travel or other opportunities. Although, we are seeing more colleges and state schools that offer forms of financial aid to assist with students who seek such experiences. You can also use money saved in a 529 plan to pay for some gap year programs. Another disadvantage to taking a gap year is that some students become distracted by their new experience or use this type of exploration as a clutch to delay leaving the comforts of home. 

Deciding if a gap year is right for you

If you’re a student who feels as if you want to contribute to something before college, or you have a passion for a cause that will help you gain tremendous experience that will benefit your time at a university, taking a gap year might be an excellent option for you. On the other hand, if you are excited about college, dedicated to your studies and ready to take that next step in your academic career, then taking time off right now for a gap year is not necessary. A gap year will not be your only time to experience something outside of academia. Students always have the option once they are enrolled in college to take advantage of study abroad programs, work experience and volunteering opportunities from within the university. Regardless of your decision, make sure you do not make it off of impulse or pressure. There are benefits for taking a gap year, and also benefits of going to college right after high school. This is a personal decision that you must make based on your admission, financial situation, and college readiness.

ORIGINAL POST: 01/12/2017; UPDATED 04/05/2018

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