what is a gap year?
image attribution flickr user Tulane Public Relations

What Is A Gap Year? The Pros And Cons For Students

contributed by Kristen Goodmen

After more than a decade in K-12 education, imagine having a whole year to do what you want whenever you want? What would you do?

Sixty percent of college students every year discover that they are not ready for college despite meeting the eligibility criteria. It is one primary reason why students drop out of college. What if these students took a year experimenting, researching, and validating their choices? Would they be more ready for college?

If you are considering your college options, learn how a gap year can help you make the right choice.

Harvard College encourages its students to defer their enrolment for a year to engage in meaningful activities. Why?

According to a survey by the Gap Year Association, students who deferred their studies for a gap year activity enrolled in their studies at the same rate as those who didn’t take a time off. Better yet, ‘gappers’ reported higher grades and shorter graduation time compared to those who jumped straight to college.

What Is A Gap Year?

A ‘gap year’ occurs when a student takes time off from formal education–usually between graduation from high school and beginning college/university. This break is often called a gap year or a sabbatical year. Of course, you don’t just take a break from school; you engage in activities that grow you, build your character, further your ambitions, and even build your resume.

For example, if you are interested in majoring in programming, you can shadow a programmer or work in a programming business before joining college. When you start college, you will be years ahead of your peers! You can also choose to spend your gap year abroad. You will interact with different people and their cultures, learn a foreign language, build your problem-solving skills and expand your worldview.

Is It A Good Idea To Take A Gap Year?

The intention behind a gap year is for students to gain life experience. You choose your experience. You don’t even have to do one thing the entire year. Experiment as much as you like!

What Is Considered A Gap Year?

The term ‘gap year’ is a misnomer since it doesn’t have to be 12 months long. Your gap year could be more or less. A gap year is simply a ‘pause’ from schoolwork to pursue other goals. As long as you do something meaningful like volunteering, interning, working, researching, traveling, and have something to show for it, there’s little to risk. In fact, gap years–properly implemented–can support positive student mental health, too.

A gap year is not about wanderlust. Though the gap year had its beginnings in travel and cultural exchanges, fun is only a byproduct.  

Why Take A Gap Year? The Pros and Cons

A gap year is a time for self-reflection and life experience. It is also a time to develop your independence and redefine your life purpose, take care of yourself physically and mentally, adopt new habits, and otherwise take stock in your present and future before diving right back into a rigorous academic effort.

A gap year activity benefits you in many ways, including:

  • Self-Development And Growth – Spend your gap year interacting with different people, reflecting on your choices and your future, challenging your limits, and developing your independence.
  • Career Preparation – Take the time to learn if you are cut out for your career option. By shadowing industry experts, interning, or doing paid jobs you know what it takes to be in that profession.
  • Experiment With Your Interests  – You can’t experiment with different degrees. But you can experiment with different experiences. You might fancy a job in an office, but are you that patient? Use your gap year to learn what you don’t like and what you love.
  • Learn A Foreign Language – If you want to learn French, visit and live in a village in France to learn the language straight from the natives.  
  • Build Your Resume  – Even though you don’t spend your gap year in your career, employers like to prove that you can take on challenges, make your own choices and adapt to a new environment. Your gap year experience will validate you.

Possible Challenges

It is good to take a gap year. However, it’s good to be aware of these drawbacks you may face.

  • High Traveling Expenses – Research some affordable gap year programs or fundraising. The international experience will be worth every penny!
  • Grappling With Your Independence – After spending a lifetime under your parents’ and teacher’s guidance, you may engage in reckless activities as you celebrate your freedom. You may also get homesick and feel alone in a far country. But guess what? It’s about time!
  • Losing Focus – What if you had so much fun that you want to last forever in the gap year? What if you started a business during your gap year, and it picked up with overwhelming momentum? Will you join college? Have a detailed plan in place before starting your gap year. Let your plan show when and how to get started with school.

How Do You Start A Gap Year?

  • Research all your possible options. Start with your interests. Look into gap year programs and the choices they offer. Research any places you intend to visit. Get a map, learn the regular terms in the local language, get a guide, etc.
  • Plan extensively. Start with your goals. What do you want to achieve? Plan the activities you want to do, the places you want to visit, your budget, and how to fund your gapping.
  • If you will gap alone, organize your travel and accommodation arrangements. Get your travel and health documents ready. You can live with a friend or family abroad to cut costs.
  • If you plan to work, find out possible vacancies and approach the employers.

What If You Have No Money?

  • Join volunteer programs like the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You pay for the experience with your time on an organic farm.
  • Get a paid job or internship.
  • Freelance if you have a skill like photography.
  • Shadow an expert in your career field.
  • Work in your family business.
  • Borrow funds from friends and family.
  • Apply for Gap scholarships from programs like the EF Gap Year.

Does A Gap Year Affect Your Scholarship?

Yes. You may lose financial aid when you defer your admission to college. You should consult with the provider before taking the gap year. Some allow you to reapply for the scholarship or even keep your funds for when you join college.

If you feel that you need the gap year, do your research. The experience is bound to turn around your thinking, attitude, and choices!