Should you take a year off between high school and college? What will you learn or experience to help you take that next step? A gap year isn’t just for wealthy celebrity kids. In fact, a gap year might be just the thing to start you on the path to a satisfying career.
According to the Gap Year Association, the average number of students taking gap years is between 40,000-60,000. These numbers spiked to an estimated 130,000 during the 2020-2021 school year. The pandemic likely increased these numbers, but the trend is growing.
The idea of taking a gap year has become more accessible at many institutions of higher learning. From Ivies like Harvard to state schools like the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, plenty of colleges provide incentives for students to take a gap year, offering preferred admission, financial aid and course credits.
You’ll want to evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of taking a gap year based on your own individual needs, feelings and constraints. In this article, we’ll dig into the motivations for taking a gap year and the pros and cons of deferring freshman year.
Why the Wait? Reasons Students Choose a Gap Year
You can defer college entry for a wide variety of reasons. According to a survey from the Gap Year Association, the top motivating factors include:
- Wanting to gain life experience and grow personally
- Desiring to travel and experience other cultures
- Recovering from burnout
The first two illustrate traditional reasons to push pause on college entry. Recent high school graduates have many reasons to look outside the classroom for experiences and opportunities. These real-world interactions prepare them for the rigors of university and their eventual debut into the working world. These experiences can be essential to becoming college-ready.
The third reason — burnout — is different. It’s the response to the often high pressure of high school and the drive to get into college. As a result, the break between high school and college isn’t long enough. A gap year could be useful if you want to regain motivation and momentum.
No matter the reason, gap years have both pros and cons.
Reasons to Pack Your Bags: Gap Year Pros
If you’re making a list, consider these advantages of taking a gap year.
Take time to recover from academic burnout and enter college with renewed focus.
After a year off, you’ll start the university experience with a new perspective. This break improves the chances of graduating in four or fewer years.
Traveling provides an opportunity to increase and expand skill sets.
The Gap Year Association survey asked about the outcomes of gap years, with respondents saying that a gap year helped them become:
- More culturally aware
- Better at communication
- More self-directed
- Better at problem-solving
Employers seek out those who bring these skills to the table. Additionally, a gap year is a time to learn or become more proficient in a second language — another differentiator entering the work world as job candidates.
Gaining work experience can lead to the best career path.
By spending a year traveling or working in a career field of interest, you’ll gain a more complete picture of your interests and talents. This leads to a more focused college experience and an earlier understanding of which major — and job path — to pursue.
Reasons to Take the Straight Path into Freshman Year: Gap Year Cons
When might a gap year be a bad idea? Your decision to step away from the college path comes with the following potential disadvantages.
The transition back to school may feel harder.
After taking time off, you’ll need to relearn study habits and classroom preparation. Gap years don’t often provide the structure and formality of an academic schedule. If you are already struggling with these skills, a gap year will make them even rustier, causing you to lose post-high school momentum.
A gap year provokes feelings of being “behind.”
You may feel disconnected from your immediate friend group if you defer. When returning to school, your peers are sophomores. This causes feelings of being left behind.
Gap years can be expensive.
Taking a year off from school doesn’t pause financial responsibilities. If the time includes working, finances could pose less of a concern. However, a gap year involving traveling or volunteering often proves costly, so financial planning must be part of the decision-making process.
The stress of gap years can take a toll.
A gap year is a time of exploration and learning, but it can also be stressful as you figure out how to navigate adulthood. If the year involves traveling and being in new places, you’ll be outside of your comfort zone, which creates to friction and personal growth.
These experiences often lead to a positive mental and emotional rebound after years of feeling burnt out in high school. However, a new type of stress emerges due to change and new environments. Keeping an eye on mental health is essential during a gap year.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Gap Year
So, you’re planning a gap year, and you want the time away from school to serve as a strategic investment in your future. Keep the following considerations in mind:
- Define what skills you want to work on that will serve you well in life.
- Consider enrolling in a gap year program for more structure.
- If possible, travel to places that give you an opportunity to experience new cultures, meet people, expand your worldviews and become self-sufficient.
- Decide if a working gap year is the best approach to learn about an industry or save money so your college years will be less financially daunting.
- Impact your future positively by volunteering while on your gap year.
- Focus on self-growth and maturation to be college and career-ready.
A gap year can be a critical part of your journey to a fruitful career. It provides resources and ways to build skills that will prove beneficial for your future life and work.
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