By Derek Moran | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
7 Min Read | October 28, 2020 in Money
More and more young people are choosing to take a gap year between high school and college.
Research shows that a gap year can help young people improve their academics, graduate sooner than the average, and even lead to enhanced job satisfaction in their future careers.
Planning can help create a successful gap year experience.
The “gap year” is a somewhat vague concept. It can mean many different things to those considering this alternative road. But what is a gap year? Essentially it is some time off – which could be a few months or over a year – between high school graduation and the first semester of college.
All that time not in school? There’s a bit of a stigma when it comes to taking a year off before college, but that notion can be a misconception. Done well, taking a gap year can broaden your horizons and help you mature in ways that can make you a better college student – all while experiencing something completely new and different in your life.
With the world at your fingertips, there’s a lot to choose from and decide when considering a college gap year. That’s why your initial planning is often crucial.
The Pros and Cons of a Gap Year Before College
|Gain maturity and independence||Fall a year behind peers|
|Broaden your horizons||Can be harder to apply for college|
|Learn new skills||Financial aid rules can change|
|Improve academics||Some schools don’t allow gap years|
|Future job satisfaction||Can lose academic momentum|
|Some colleges consider it a plus|
It’s unlikely any two gap year experiences are going to be the same, but there are a few things they generally have in common. For example, the main goal of your gap year may be personal growth. Consider making an outline of things you would like to try, see, or experience, and then think about what on your list could help you learn more about the world and/or yourself.
Whether you plan to travel and work abroad, volunteer locally, take on an internship, or simply explore the unknown, a gap year can help you gain new skills and experience. Traveling to foreign countries can expose you to new cultures and new views on the world. If you’re looking for something more structured, there are many gap year programs available that offer experiences in everything from archaeology to zoology. Learning something new is the key, be it real-world, hands-on experience or just something you never realized about yourself.
Gap year programs are structured programs that may be run by nonprofits, private companies, colleges, or even governments. They range from a few weeks to well over a year. Some coordinate volunteering efforts, some focus more on fun, and some are more like internships with on-location hands-on learning.
Prices for these programs can vary as much as the activities. Depending on what you’re looking to do, they can range from a few hundred dollars to well over $60,000. That could be the difference between volunteering in a developing country compared to a globetrotting self-discovery adventure.1 Each program is different and may cover housing, food, travel, etc. Some only cover specific things, and some are all-inclusive. A few even give you a stipend for your work. It’s a good idea to look into college-sponsored gap year programs before you apply, as many private universities pay for part or all of the cost.
It can be hard to narrow down your options, but a good tip is to find a few things you’re curious about, and then look for a gap year program that fits your interests and budget.
Many students benefit from a change of pace or even just time to enjoy a less rigorous few months. This downtime from traditional learning can lead to many positive outcomes:
Many top schools – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, to name a prestigious few – encourage taking some time off before your first semester. Countless other colleges offer easy enrollment deferrals. It’s best to check with each individual school, though, for some have stricter rules. If a gap year is done correctly, many colleges and universities are on board with this growing trend.4
Despite the potential advantages, there are some criticisms of taking a gap year:
If you plan to travel for your gap year, being away from home for the first time can be tricky. Some key things many agree can make the adjustment easier include:
The independence and maturity learned from a gap year can help young adults for the rest of their lives, improving their college academics as well as their future job satisfaction. But gap years aren’t for everyone. If you’re certain of your career path and want to get right to it, maybe heading straight to college is best for you. But maybe you’re a bit uncertain about where to head, and a well-thought-out gap year can help it all come together.
1 “Gap Year Program – Program at a Glance,” Winterline
2 “Gap Year Association National Alumni Survey Report,” Gap Year Association
4 “The Gap-Year Advantage,” Macmillan Publishers
5 “Taking a Gap Year Before College,” Community for Accredited Online Schools