Pros, Cons and Practical Advice About Taking a Gap Year

It’s no surprise that taking a year off between high school and college is a growing trend in America.  The rising number of gap year programs and increase in information about taking a gap year are leading parents to ask the question, “Could a gap year program be right for my son or daughter?”  The gap year trend has seen a 20 percent increase since 2006 and the initial data is coming back with overwhelmingly positive indications for student success in college.  Yet, many parents are still hesitant and anxious about their student taking a year off.  Being informed and seeking help from trusted professionals will help you will make the right decision about whether or not this rising trend is right for your child.

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year can be any kind of journey: travel, work, internship, community service, etc., taken after high school before a student goes to college.  It gives the student a chance to gain life experience before heading back into the classroom. Students can plan their own gap year, or participate in a structured program lasting anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Gap year programs are very popular in Europe, where more than 5 percent of students choose to take on an adventure before going to college.

 

What are the benefits of taking a gap year? 

Since gap years are rising in popularity, new research is becoming available.  Recent data shows that students who took a gap year before attending college entered college with more confidence, resilience, maturity and a stronger sense of personal responsibility.  Gap year participants are more likely to get involved in college and have higher GPA’s.  Many students feel they would benefit from a break from the burnout and academic pressure of high school and often times, those who take a gap year return to school with increased motivation and a greater sense of clarity about their intended academic pursuits.

 

What are the cons?

Many parents worry that if they encourage their son or daughter to take a gap year their child wont ever pursue higher education.  Opponents fear that students who get a taste of earning money or living on their own won’t return to the stress and pressure of college.  While that isn’t the case for the vast majority of gap year participants, it can be a source of tension among students and their families.  Also, many gap year programs are expensive, costing as much as a year of college or more.

 

How do I know if it’s right for my son/daughter?

Students tend to cite two main reasons for wanting to take a gap year: needing a break from the stress and pressure of standard education, and wanting to learn more about themselves and the world around them.  If a student says they want to take a gap year, listen to their reasoning and start discussing the options.  Chances are that if the student doesn’t want to go to college right away, it will be a waste of time money to send them.  One study reports that 90% of students who take a gap year return to college within one year.  Many students know that they want to attend college, but lack the maturity, focus or dedication necessary to succeed at that level immediately after high school.  It’s a very conscientious and insightful reflection for a student to make and should be explored more thoroughly, ideally with the support of a trusted college counselor.

 

It might be a good idea for my student; what do we do next?

Most students who are considering a gap year should research gap year programs along with traditional college and apply to both during their senior year.  Then, students can typically defer their acceptance to the college of their choice by writing a letter to the college letting them know about the specific plans for the year off.  Students should always keep their long-term goals in mind when considering gap year and participate in programs that will truly help them grow as an individual and add value to their eventual educational and career goals.