An increasing number of students are opting to take a year off between high school and college. The reasons vary from wanting to “take a break” from homework, exams, etc. to a desire to travel or follow a passion, or perhaps simply working and saving money for college expenses. Whatever the reason, are they a good idea?
First, let’s examine two different versions of a gap year: pre- and post-admissions. A “pre-admissions” gap year is one taken after the senior year of high school, before you actually apply to college. Generally, you will apply sometime during the gap year. A “post-admission” gap year means you have already applied and been admitted to college. In order to take the gap year, you will make a deposit to the school of your choice and then defer your enrollment for a year (nearly all colleges allow this, but if you’re not sure, ask before you apply so you’ll know what your options are.)
Whether you take the gap year before or after you apply to college, here are some things you may want to consider:
If you’re hoping that a pre-admission gap year will bolster your application, keep in mind that colleges will still place primary emphasis on your high school record. Your experience should clearly bolster your academic credentials, for example, doing significant research in your intended major or gaining experience such as starting your own business. Alternatively, you can also pursue a post-graduate “13th year” designed to boost your grades. If what you have gained is a clearer sense of your future goals or a greater sense of maturity, that’s important, but it won’t change your grades.
If you’re going to apply to college during your gap year, line up your letters of recommendations from your counselors/teachers ahead of time so they will be ready when you need them. It can be difficult to do this when you are no longer enrolled at the school, and may even be a distance away. You can always supplement them with appropriate references from your gap year experience.
Colleges really don’t place any value on one activity being better than another. If what you are seeking offers some personal enrichment, or even if it’s a job bagging groceries that helps you save for college – then go for it. That said, anything that doesn’t appear to have had some kind of potential for personal growth such as taking time off to “relax” playing video games won’t impress anyone.
Plan, Plan, Plan: Don’t take for granted the opportunities you’re looking for will just materialize. Reach out early to any organizations you wish to volunteer for, investigate potential internships, buy tickets to your destination, etc. before you graduate and be ready to start soon after. It’s far too easy to lose track of time when you think you have an entire year – but instead you end up binge watching Netflix for months!
You can spend the time doing several things; there’s no need to do the same thing for an entire year. Exploring a variety of options such as volunteering, working, travelling, and taking classes in ice sculptures – can help you make the most of your time off.