Gap Year: Points to Consider and How to Do It Right

Updated  September 19, 2017 |
Gap Year: Points to Consider and How to Do It Right
Though many students move straight into college after high school, there is some benefit to taking a "gap year". Keep reading to learn what a gap year is and how it might benefit you.

Every year, millions of high school students graduate and move on to attend college or university. So many students follow this path that it has almost become an expectation for high schoolers to move immediately on to college after graduation. Of those millions upon millions of high school graduates, however, there are some who don’t follow tradition – some who take a year off between high school and college. This is called a gap year.

What exactly is a gap year and what are the potential benefits? In this article, you’ll receive an overview of what a gap year is as well as the associated pros and cons. You’ll also receive tips for making the most of your gap year, should you choose to take one.

What is a Gap Year?

Though many high school graduates move immediately in to college in the fall after they graduate, there are also many students who do not. The term “gap year” refers to the year off some students take between graduating high school and attending college. There are many reasons why a student might take a gap year. For many, a gap year is time to work and to save money to pay for tuition, lodging, and supplies while attending college. For others, it is something unexpected – an unplanned setback caused by an injury or major life event.

Gap years first became a standard practice in the United Kingdom during the 1970s as a means for students to gain practical and professional experience during the 7 or 8 months following final exams before the start of university classes. The gap year made its way to the United States during the 1980s and they have taken on a life of their own. Here are some of the reasons a student might choose to take a gap year:

  • Time to take additional classes to prepare for college
  • Traveling and gaining more life experience
  • Taking time to determine what career path to follow
  • Working to save money for college tuition
  • Taking time to explore and experience new cultures
  • Taking classes or completing a program to pad your resume
  • Having personal time to decide if college is right for you

Every student who takes a gap year has his or her own unique reasons for doing so. With the cost of college tuition on the rise, it is becoming more and more of a practical choice to wait to attend college until you are absolutely sure it’s the right choice for you. Even though community college is more affordable, it still costs thousands of dollars a year and it is a major commitment of time and money.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year

Whether you want to take some extra classes or explore a foreign country, taking a gap year has many benefits. Before you decide to do it, however, you should consider both the pros and cons. Here is an overview of the pros and cons for taking a gap year:

Pros for Taking a Gap Year:

  • It gives you extra time to think about what you want your future to look like
  • It enables you to get some “real world” experience before starting college
  • It gives you a chance to pad your resume and improve your college applications
  • It enables you to work for a year to save money for tuition and other expenses
  • It gives you the opportunity to travel before you have obligations like job and family

Cons for Taking a Gap Year:

  • It puts you a year behind your friends and classmates
  • You take the risk of losing your momentum, you may never go back to school
  • Depending what you do, a gap year can be very expensive
  • It takes a lot of thought and planning to make it worthwhile

The most important thing to think about when considering a gap year is your reason for doing so. Don’t look at a gap year as an opportunity to goof off or to postpone “real life” – think of it as an opportunity to better yourself. Unless you have a good reason and strong motivation for taking a gap year, you may be better off just moving straight into college after graduation.

How to Make the Most of Your Gap Year

Now that you have a better understanding of the pros and cons associated with taking a gap year, you may be able to say now whether it’s the right choice for you. If it is, take the time to plan your gap year carefully so you can make the most of it. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Take a class or learn a new skill. Even if your reason for taking a gap year is to travel and experience new cultures, you should still make an effort to take a class or to learn a new skill so you don’t lose momentum. Plus, it will look better on your resume or college application if you have something to show for your gap year.
  • Try to get an internship. If you have a pretty good idea what you want to do with your life but you want to be sure before committing to an entire degree, see if you can get an internship in your chosen field. Not only might you make a little money, but you’ll be working in the field so you’ll be able to decide whether it’s something to pursue for the long-term.
  • Incorporate a little travel. If your reason for taking a gap year is to bulk up your resume or college application with additional classes, don’t forget to include a little time for yourself. Plan a trip to Europe for a few weeks or see if you take a class oversees. There is no better time to travel than when you are young.
  • Make connections and get a reference. No matter how you spend your gap year, you need to think of ways to make the experience work for you. Whether you work a job or take a class, see if you can make some connections with people in your field of interest or, better yet, see if you can score a letter of recommendation.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments. Whatever you end up doing during your gap year, try to keep a journal or at least a list of your unique experiences and accomplishments. The experiences you have during a gap year make great fodder for college admissions essays, so keep track of them!
  • Keep an open mind. No matter what you do during your gap year, try to be open to new experiences – you never know what you might learn! Take opportunities to volunteer, work, or make new friends as often as they arise and try to get as much out of your gap year as you can.

There are many benefits to taking a gap year but you shouldn’t forget the challenges. If you’re thinking about taking a year off after graduating high school, think carefully about all of your options to ensure that you make the choice that is right for you. 


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