More high school seniors are thinking about taking a gap year to wait out the coronavirus pandemic before enrolling in college. Current college students are considering taking a leave of absence until they can return to campus and get the full college experience. But, there are several risks associated with taking a gap year or otherwise pausing your college education.

Less than 10% of dependent college students took a gap year before enrolling in college, according to data from the 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). This may increase this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking a gap year, however, comes with several risks:

  • The student might never return to college. According to the Gap Year Association, 90% of students who participate in a formal gap-year program enroll in college within a year. This means that 10% do not return.
  • The student will have to reapply for financial aid next year. Most colleges will allow students to defer an offer of admission for a year, but not the offer of financial aid. After all, your ability to pay for college may change.
  • When they reapply for financial aid, the amount of financial aid may be lower. After returning from a gap year, students are about 5% less likely to receive financial aid and receive about $2,500 less financial aid, on average.
  • Students who take a gap year get rusty. When you get out of the mode of studying, your academic performance may suffer.
  • Students who take a gap year are less likely to graduate, even when they enroll in college. Students who take a gap year are about half as likely to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. The NPSAS statistics are 20.8% vs. 44.2% within four years of enrollment, 34.3% vs. 63.5% within five years, and 41.4% vs. 70.0% within six years.

Students who take a leave of absence are also about half as likely to attain a Bachelor’s degree within six years.

Nevertheless, a gap year provides many benefits besides letting you wait out the pandemic. Students who took a structured gap year say that it helped them mature as a person, increased their self-confidence, and improved their communication skills.

There are a few ways to mitigate the risks associated with a gap year. Chief among them is to plan activities for the gap year and participate in a more structured gap year experience. Set returning to college as a goal. Plan a path from college enrollment to college graduation.