Gap Year: The Pause that Refreshes

April 7, 2017


There are many reasons why a student might be hesitant to leap from high school straight into college:  burnout, confusion, a special opportunity, the need to make money.  But when parents hear the phrase, "gap year," many conjure images of their kid binge-watching Netflix all night and sleeping till noon.   They worry that if their child doesn't move directly from high school to college, they may never go at all; climb aboard now or risk missing the train altogether.

Most students do, in fact, go on to college after a gap year--according to one study, 90%.  And there are some significant benefits to taking the time off.  In general, gap year students return with:

  • increased ownership of their education

  • greater maturity and the skills to better navigate college life

  • greater clarity about their career and academic interests 

  • renewed energy and focus

  • increased self-confidence

On the other hand, there are some risks to delaying school for a year:

  • the student will be a year behind their peers in experiencing college life as well as graduating

  • there may be a loss of academic momentum and atrophying of study skills

  • it can cost a bundle

Even if a student is sure about a gap year, he should still apply to college and then ask for a deferral.  This way, the plan to return to school is already established.  One caveat:  not all schools allow deferrals, so don't make assumptions.  By the way, some schools offer a full year deferral while others only offer a semester's worth.  Some schools will allow students to maintain any financial aid offered, others will ask the student to reapply for aid.  This information is usually available on a school's website.  However,  a quick call to admissions will provide a definitive answer.

If a school does allow deferral, they will want to know how the student plans to spend her time.  The student will have to present a plan with expected outcomes that supports the student's reasons for taking the gap year.  Once a deferral is approved, the school will ask the student to sign a contract committing to attending the school after the gap year.

There are a lot of factors to consider here.  But a student with passion and commitment to a gap year plan stands a very good chance of achieving success.


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