After a tumultuous and stressful 2020 for us all, it’s no wonder many students are considering taking a “gap year” between finishing high school and beginning undergrad. While gap years have always been more common in Europe and Australia than the United States, many American students are expressing increased interest in the idea. So, should you take a gap year? Only you can decide that, but here are some pros and cons to consider:
For anyone who’s feeling “burnt out” from their high school experience, a gap year can be a valuable respite, allowing them to start undergrad refreshed with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement for their studies. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed after the unprecedented turns of 2020, a 2021-22 gap year can be a great way to recharge and get yourself back on track.
Furthermore, there are a wide variety of opportunities for how you can use the time afforded to you by your gap year. Many companies offer explicitly designed “gap year programs” for travel experiences, volunteer work, and more. Another option is to seek out paid employment for your gap year. Depending on your circumstances, waiting a year to start undergrad can be a great way to build up some savings for college, leaving you with an extremely welcome financial “cushion” when you start your freshman year.
Finally, a gap year can be a great opportunity to get a better sense of what you want from college. Whether it’s trying an internship or entry-level job in the field you wanted to study, or taking the opportunity to explore the world outside your hometown, the time you spend on your gap year can help inform or confirm your study plans for college, allowing you to come in freshman year with a better idea of what you want to study and less chance of being overwhelmed by your first taste of campus life.
While a gap year may sound great at the outset, there are some definite potential downsides to consider. First, and perhaps most important, is checking what your college’s policy on deferrals is. If you’ve already been accepted into your desired college, you will need to check with them before taking a gap year. Most schools require you to request a deferral in advance, and some have more extensive requirements that determine whether or not your request is granted. If you’ve been granted any scholarships, it’s doubly important to make certain those will carry over in the event you defer. Be sure to check with your school that a gap year, and even the kind of gap year you were hoping to take, is feasible.
Another potential pitfall is a loss of momentum. Not all students are exhausted from their high school experience—some are fired up and raring to go to college! If that describes you, think long and hard about how you’ll feel transitioning from student life to a gap year, to student life again, all over a relatively short period of time. For some, this can be more draining than going directly to college!
Finally, think about whether your plans for your gap year will be feasible under current circumstances. Many students take a gap year because they view it as an opportunity to travel or volunteer abroad. However, with covid-19 travel restrictions in place in many countries, and vaccinations likely to begin in many developing nations only in mid-2021, there may be challenges to a travel-based gap year, particularly if you plan to utilize a specialty gap year program. If travel and work abroad is your primary motivation for taking a gap year, consider if you might be better served by a summer program once you’re in college or a gap year following your undergrad graduation.
So, is a gap year the right choice for you? That’s a very personal question, but once you weigh your options and do your research, coming to the right decision shouldn’t be too tricky!