What’s a Gap Year? Why you should consider it.

What’s a Gap Year? Why you should consider it.

Gap years are becoming increasingly common among high school students in the US, with a recent study finding a peak during the pandemic – 40% of students considered taking a gap year in 2020. Many ideas may come to mind regarding what students might do during this time off from school, but what does it really mean to take a gap year and is it a good idea?

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a one-year (or one semester) break from school and usually refers to time between high school and college enrollment. 

What might a student do during a gap year?

A gap year used to seem like something luxurious, conjuring ideas of travel and adventure, but in reality, this time is not designed to be a vacation and the activities a student might choose to explore are highly varied. In fact, many students take a practical route, choosing to work to earn money that can be used to mitigate the cost of entering college. Some may complete an internship whose duration, weekly commitment, and/or location may conflict with a full-time college student’s schedule. There are many well-established companies that offer packaged activities or experiences. Using the Gap Year Association’s search tool, you will find hundreds of accredited programs that offer a wide selection of options ranging from volunteer and service work, to outdoor education, to cultural experiences, to leadership development and yes, immersion programs, among many others! A student need not feel limited to subscribing to an established program either. Students have also chosen to use this time to pursue creative and entrepreneurial pursuits into which they wish to invest a significant amount of time. Really, the sky’s the limit!

How do colleges and universities feel about students taking a gap year?

By and large, colleges and universities are supportive of a student’s decision to take a gap year. Typically, students are advised to apply as normal during their senior year and once they have determined the school in which they plan to enroll, they should request to defer their admission for one year. Once approved, this practice holds a student’s place in the class for the next year without the need to re-apply. It is worth noting; however, that a student would need to re-apply for any financial aid packaging (which requires annual renewal anyway) and merit scholarships may no longer be available depending on the school. 

There are exceptions to colleges allowing students to defer their admission to take a gap year, so it is important to check each college’s policy as early as possible.

Why should students consider taking a gap year?

With the stress of high school and the college process continuing to mount, many students benefit from taking a break from a traditional school environment to learn, grow, and develop in new ways. Research backs up this assertion. A study from Middlebury College asserts that students who took a gap year performed better academically even when controlling for other demographic factors and this impact endured during all four years. Gap Year Association surveys gap year program participants each year, last year with a sample size of 1200 students from the US and Canada. The results show that almost all students felt better prepared to enter college following their gap year experience.

Next steps?

Explore your options! As always, students and families should speak with their counselor for guidance that supports their individual goals and interests when it comes to any gap year questions and planning.

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