The Gap Year – Pros and Cons

As universities are becoming more impacted by budget cuts and large increases in applications, many are trumpeting the option of taking a year off before college. High school grads burned out from intense study and not ready to commit to another four years are opting for the “gap year” where they can travel, explore, learn, and mature. Common in other countries such as England and Australia, the gap year is a useful way for students to explore a few interests before deciding what to study in college.

Although there are no formal studies about the effects of taking a year off before college in the United States, numerous admissions officers report that students are more focused than their peers who went straight from high school to college. Some of the top universities including Harvard and Princeton formally recommend that every student spend a year volunteering abroad before starting freshman year.  These top institutions know that better-prepared students have higher academic success rates and lower drop out rates. Three in five students who enter a four-year public university do not graduate within five years, according to the College Board. Ill-prepared students, for social or academic reasons, waste both their school’s and family’s money. A year of teaching, traveling, or volunteering before college can make all the difference in finding success in the high-intensity academic atmosphere that college requires.

It is important to establish guidelines before taking a year off. The following are a brief set to follow:

Apply to colleges.

Students should still take the SAT and ACT tests and apply to schools during senior year of high school. If accepted, students can request a one-year deferral.

Have a backup plan.

For students that do not get into the college of their choice, a gap year can offer a second chance. If students perform well in an academic program abroad or through service work, their chances of getting into the college of their choice the second time can greatly improve.

Work out finances.

For students with financial needs, a gap year can be used to work and save money. While some students dream of a year unrestrained travel adventures, it is not often financially feasible. Taking two smaller trips with work between trips, or working while traveling, can be a more realistic goal.

Experts are split on whether gappers should adhere to a strict set of structured activities or one that is less programmed. However, most agree that students should not just take time off for the sake of relaxing, but instead set goals and intend to grow as an individual. Traveling and living by ones wits can be an extraordinary way to grow and discover new interests. Very few seventeen and eighteen-year-olds know what they want to spend the next four years studying. The gap year is a great option for those wanting to gain life experience before surrendering to the rigors of academia again.

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