Is college the immediate first step after high school? An increasing number of students are not jumping right into college after they leave high school, choosing instead to take some time off to focus on other areas of life outside of school. This is known as a gap year, and it can be a healthy way to start a college career.
What Is a Gap Year in College?
A gap year is a time between graduating from high school and going off to college that a student uses to work, volunteer, travel, or otherwise plan for college. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that a gap year is not always 12-months, but can be shorter or longer depending on a student’s needs. Regardless of how long a gap year lasts, the underlying idea is that the break gives the student time to reflect, gain life experience, and decide what they want to do in college.
There are many ways a student can spend a gap year, including:
- Working – Saving money for college is easier when you are not also going to school.
- Volunteering – You have the unique opportunity to take a large volunteer opportunity when you do not have a career or a college path looming, and you will even find that there are volunteering gap year programs designed specifically for youth in your position.
- Traveling – Whether through volunteer opportunities or just for fun, a gap year is a time that you can spend traveling and seeing the world for yourself.
- Gaining life experiences – Learn some important “adult” skills that you will need during your college and early career years. This personal growth is highly valuable.
Increased Awareness of Gap Years in College
Gap years are becoming increasingly popular with today’s college students. In the past, the typical student jumped right into their freshman year as soon as they graduated, but now some are taking time to breathe. As many as 40% of students are now embracing the idea of a gap year, and it is quickly becoming more and more mainstream. If you are considering a gap year, the BLS recommends talking to your guidance counselor, so you can make the most out of it and ensure you are ready to go to college when the year is over.
Pros of Taking a Gap Year
Gap years can help students gain some insight into their own personal skills and goals, so they can enter college with the right career path in mind. It also gives perspective, allowing the student to reflect on their goals without the demands of tests and papers to write. Here are some of the benefits of choosing to take a gap year:
1. Gain Work Experience
If you were a busy high school student, chances are you did not have a lot of time to work during school, at least not in any capacity that resembles a career. Taking a gap year gives you the opportunity to get some work experience. That work experience can help you determine if the path you are considering will be a good one for your own life experiences, goals, and skills.
2. Break to Recharge
You just spent at least 12 years in school. Before jumping into another four (or more), maybe you want a break? This can be quite refreshing as you recharge your educational batteries. Taking a year off before college gives you a chance to recharge after the challenges of your high school years.
3. Explore Opportunities
There are many life experiences out there outside of school. You might have the freedom to travel, explore areas around your own home, or get to know people outside of your comfort zone. These kinds of experiences are valuable in a different way than classroom experiences and are worth experiencing.
4. Gain New Life Skills
As you gain those new life experiences, you will also gain life skills. Take your gap year to learn how to budget, manage your time, cook, keep a home or apartment clean, and navigate your local community. By having these life skills under your belt before you go off to college, you will find the college experience far less overwhelming.
5. Earn Extra Money
That extra year off before college gives you a chance to work full-time hours. This helps you earn extra money that you can put towards tuition and other college expenses. Since you do not have the demands of a school schedule, you can take on any and all hours that come your way.
Potential Cons of Taking a Year Off Before College
Taking a year off before college is not a perfect solution for all students. It can derail your educational plans and make it harder to get back on track. Before making the choice to do this, consider the drawbacks as well as the benefits:
1. Transition Back to School Could Be More Difficult
You are already in the “school” mode of life. Taking a year off can make it difficult to get back into the swing of things. Your study habits and learning abilities may slide as you take that year off. If you are not particularly passionate about education, this is a factor worth considering.
2. Feel Behind Your Peers
When you go to school after your year off, some of your peers will be a year ahead of you. You may be one of the older freshmen in your class. For many students, this is not an issue. An increased number of adult learners in the current college landscape makes it less of a problem, but you do need to consider if you will feel behind if you are a year behind everyone you graduated high school with.
3. Lost Momentum
You have momentum coming out of high school. You are excited about the educational opportunities that await in college. If you take a year off to work, you might lose that momentum. Thankfully, the research shows that 90% of students who take a gap year do end up going to college, so that lost momentum is not always a huge problem.
Gap years spent working can bring in income. Gap years spent traveling and enjoying life experiences can be expensive. Before you take a gap year, make sure you are using it wisely and can afford the experiences you want to have.
5. Requires Planning
Your gap year will require some planning, particularly if you want to travel. If you do not spend time planning, then you will waste the gap year opportunities available to you. If you choose to take a gap year, make sure you put it to work for you.
Should You Take a Gap Year?
In light of these benefits and potential drawbacks, should you take a gap year? The answer to this question is highly personal. It is important for families to understand that a gap year is a valid option for student growth and does not mean the student is stepping away from college altogether.
You should take a gap year if you have some specific life experiences you want to have before you start your career. Once you start college, those experiences could be hard to fit in.
You should not take a gap year if you are not going to plan well. You will waste that year that you could be going to school.
You should take a gap year if you need to work to earn some money for your college expenses and have a work opportunity secured. There is nothing wrong with taking time to save for college in this way.
Finally, you should not take a gap year if you are considering dropping out of school altogether, because it may stop your momentum enough that you will quit.
Whether you take a gap year or jump right into college after high school, the right college is important. Post University is ready to help you pursue your degree field of choice. Let us know how we can help you plan your future college degree path by reaching out to our admissions team today.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!