It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many students are taking a gap year between high school and college, but one thing is clear: the trend toward doing so is increasing. This isn’t a sign of increasing laziness. In fact, students who have taken a gap year can learn so much about themselves and develop such maturity that some universities actively encourage the practice.
With that said, this isn’t a decision to make lightly. If you’re considering taking a gap year, there are some big questions you need to figure out first.
Questions to Consider:
What will you do with your gap year?
If you don’t immediately have an answer to this question, do a lot more thinking before you commit to taking a gap year. A successful gap year should absolutely include some time off to let you recharge before beginning the college path towards obtaining a degree. However, it shouldn’t be a whole year of you playing video games (as tempting as that may sound!).
Make a tentative schedule of how you’ll spend your gap year if you take one. What would the year as a whole look like — will you work part-time, volunteer, travel, complete an internship? What about your average week during the year — will you work four days a week and relax the other three, volunteer on weekends, work half time and take morning classes in a subject you’re passionate about?
You don’t need to know all the answers right now, but it’s important to have some sense of what you would do with your gap year before you commit to taking one.
Do you have clear goals for your gap year?
This is closely related to the first point, but not quite the same. Ask yourself whether you have specific goals for your gap year, or simply whether taking a year off sounds like a nice break.
Assessing specific goals for your gap year can help you gain insight into whether this is the right choice for you, especially when you weigh them against what you’ll gain from going to college. For example, if your main goal for a gap year is learning more about programming, you might be better served by attending a university and taking related classes. If your goal is to get real-world adult experience to prepare for college, though, a gap year may be the best choice.
Do you know what you want to study?
There are a few lucky people who have known since kindergarten exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up, and who haven’t been swayed from that dream. If that’s you, going straight to college might be the best plan; it will let you get started studying toward your career of choice as soon as possible.
If you’re not one of these lucky few, though, you probably have some questions about what you want to study. And without having quite a bit of real-world experience, it can be hard to know whether some interests are best kept as hobbies or run deep enough to sustain a lasting interest in a related career.
A gap year might be the perfect solution. Committing to a major can feel like committing to a career and life path (though it often doesn’t turn out that way), and that can be incredibly stressful if you aren’t sure what you want to do. A gap year gives you a chance to pursue interests in more depth and help you figure out what to study.
What’s your current college status?
This one requires less introspection than the other questions, but is still important. You probably fall into one of two basic categories: either you’ll accept the admission offer from a college and then defer your acceptance for the gap year, or you’ll (re)apply to colleges during your gap year.
In the former case, you may have few problems. Many schools actually encourage students to take gap years, so your college of choice may be perfectly happy to hold your spot for next year.
If you’re planning to apply (or reapply) to colleges during your gap year, be careful. There’s a common misconception that a school that previously rejected you may change its decision after a gap year. This isn’t likely — and definitely isn’t worth counting on.