A Rising Number of Students are Taking a Year Off Between High School and College
It’s the peak of college application season, and for many students all of their work has led up to this moment: hitting that “submit” button on their online applications. For others, however, their plan for next year might not include lecture halls and freshmen dorms, but rather volunteering abroad or teaching in underprivileged schools.
Taking a year off between high school and college is known as a gap year, and more and more US students are taking advantage of this opportunity to gain some real-world perspectives before stepping onto a college campus.
What is a Gap Year?
Historically, a post grad or gap year was used by student athletes who needed another year of athletic exposure or emersion; typically to help out in the recruiting process. It is also a very popular practice for international students, who often take a year of between secondary school and college to travel.
Over the last ten years, however, there has been a dramatic shift toward academic and service gap years within the US, with many students deferring college admission for a year to study, travel, work, or volunteer.
According to a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, about 1.2% of college freshmen choose to take a gap year before college.
These gap years help students make that transition from high school to college, with valuable work and life experience under their belt.
Some schools, like Princeton, have university-sponsored programs for students who were admitted but feel they need a year off. Princeton’s Bridge Year program is one of the most noted, allowing students to spend nine months focusing on community service and cultural immersion in China, India, Peru or Senegal.
And Harvard is known for encouraging new students to consider a gap year upon admission.
The opportunities for gap years are almost unlimited. Some options include:
Conservation and sustainability projects
Combination of work and travel
Some colleges may offer academic credit to students who complete organized programs, or may waive foreign-language requirements.
Why Take a Gap Year?
There are many reasons why a student may opt to take a gap year. For some students, the rigors of high school may have left them drained after senior year and they need time to reenergize.
For others it could be because they are unsure of what they want to study, or they may not feel like they are not yet ready to adequately balance academics and college life.
Gap years are meant to inspire and excite students and help them grow before they enter into the college world. Taking a year off can give students experiences and skills that can be translated into college life, and can make the transition onto a college campus smoother.
One of the biggest concerns that parents and students have about a gap year is that by not immediately entering college after high school, students could get off track and lose the desire to go back to school. However, many students who take a gap year find themselves hungry for more education. Studies have also shown that students who take gap years also have higher retention and graduation rates, compared to their peers who went straight into higher education after high school. And at Middlebury College and the University of North Carolina, students who took gap years were found to have higher GPAs than those who didn’t.
So I Want to do a Gap Year? What’s Next?
Plan Early – Do your research! You should begin considering your options at the end of junior year/beginning of senior year. This will give you enough time to develop a plan of action. Talk with your school counselor about your options. Yale also has a great website with resources for planning and researching gap year options.
Go through the college application process and know your school’s policy regarding gap years and deferrals – If you still plan to apply to college, but want to take a year off, applying and deferring your acceptance for a year will help keep you on track for admission. Make sure the schools you are applying to have a clear deferral policy, and if you will have to pay a tuition deposit for the fall term for which you want to enroll. If you decide not to apply now, make a clear plan for when you will visit and apply during your gap year.
Plan Thoroughly – Make sure you have a clear vision of how your year will be spent. Some schools may require a summary of your gap year plans in order to allow you to defer your admission for a year, so make sure you have your plans clearly laid out. A gap year is not a vacation; it’s a learning and growing experience!
Planning for a gap year can be just as intense as planning for freshman year of college so be sure to start early! And make sure you find the program that’s the best fit for you!