Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year
For graduating seniors and juniors alike, COVID-19 has upended everything they planned for college. Incoming freshmen are opting to accept last-minute offers from in-state universities to live at home or are frustrated with the lack of tuition discounts when faced with a year of online-only classes. Rising seniors are recalculating their own college lists in light of delayed standardized testing dates and finding creative ways to add virtual extracurriculars to their Activities list.
For many students, the idea to pursue an entirely different avenue has become appealing. Historically, a gap year has traditionally been an option for students who want to pursue an enriching experience before college, like a service trip or an internship opportunity. The Gap Year Association defines the term as “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.” Specifically, the GYA website has mentioned a substantial increase of traffic and interest on their website since the start of quarantine.
So, what might a gap year look like in action, and what are the pros and cons to be considered before planning a gap year?
Take A Unique Opportunity
Gap years, when planned well in advance, can offer enriching opportunities for students. Students can take advantage of an internship opportunity to solidify their interest in a field and add industry experience to their resume. Another popular choice for gap years is to pursue a worthwhile service or volunteer experience. Building houses for rural communities or volunteering on an environmental project can provide real-world perspective and personal responsibility before entering college.
Most students transition immediately from campus into a career. A gap year may be the last opportunity to spend time pursuing an enriching experience without additional outside pressure, which can have a lasting positive impact.
Plan It Out
It is highly recommended to have a plan in place for your eventual freshman year. There are many colleges that do not “allow a gap year,” meaning you cannot apply then take a gap year and still have your spot reserved after your gap year ends. Colleges that operate this way are usually rolling admissions schools, but there are exceptions to every rule.
Plan in advance which colleges you want to apply to in the future, and contact all of them to know their specific policy on taking a gap year. Get something in writing from them, if you are able, to keep in your own records.
Stay On Track
Colleges can be inviting of a gap year but only if you have a solid reason for the gap year, such as an internship or fellowship. As an admissions counselor, I saw many applicants get derailed from their education goals in their gap year. Making moves like never pursuing a worthwhile experience and only managing to work a part-time job during their gap year, or traveling so much they begin college already in debt can ruin the original intent of a gap year experience.
It’s recommended to not commit to a gap year unless you already have a plan in line. Never take a gap year with the intention to “figure it out later.”
Consider The Times
Quarantine has changed the image of the traditional gap year. With many borders closed, especially to US citizens, the idea of a volunteer service trip to another country may be out of the question. Evaluate your own expectations for a gap year, spend time carefully researching the options available to you, and proceed accordingly.
Don’t Take Classes – Anywhere!
Once again, your first move should be to contact the schools you plan to apply to, and ask them about their policy on gap years, especially regarding financial aid. Many schools treat gap-year students as incoming freshmen asking to apply during their gap year. You should plan to avoid all college classes during this gap year, because if classes are taken from an accredited institution, the college may consider you as a transfer student which could affect your merit scholarship awards. Contact the schools you plan to apply to, and ask them about their financial policy on gap years. Don’t become the horror story of the student who was considered a transfer student because she traveled abroad and took a language course in Spain at a local accredited university!
Above all, contact your colleges in advance, and make sure you are fully educated on how you will be viewed as an applicant and how it may affect you financially with scholarships.
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