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Choosing to take a gap year

As a college counselor, I have noticed an increase in students taking a gap year after high school. For those who don’t know, a gap year is taking time off between graduating from high school and attending college. While more common in Europe, many students in the U.S. are finding this idea intriguing. Students have identified several reasons why taking a gap year makes sense for them.

After competing for top grades, taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and endless studying for SATs and ACTs in the high school, the stress of choosing the right college and filling out all those applications can be overwhelming and exhausting. Some students feel they can benefit from time off, to prevent burnout and perhaps engage in a little self-discovery before heading off to the stresses of college.

The cost of college and the high unemployment rate in the U.S. has many students hesitant to commit to a college or a major without serious thought. Taking a gap year makes sense to students who want to spend more time discovering career options and perhaps volunteering or working as an apprentice before committing to a college program. There are organizations that place students around the globe in different gap year opportunities but there are also many low or no-cost, service-oriented programs that offer room and board in exchange for volunteering in schools, agricultural cooperatives or community based organizations.



Some colleges track gap year students, and indications are that most do well in college and often arrive in college more focused than other freshmen. Other benefits that come with a gap year may be less partying and lower drop out rates.

As a counselor, I believe there are important things to consider before committing to taking time off before starting college. It takes a mature and disciplined student to plan for a gap year and perhaps live independently away from home and their community.




The year must also be explained on college applications and admissions officials will want to know that you have spent this time wisely.

Students will also want to make sure that their senior grades are strong, as colleges will see the entire year of grades when making their admissions decisions. Students may also miss out on scholarship opportunities that are only available to graduating seniors attending college in the fall.

I often counsel students to apply to college and then see what opportunities there are within the college system to take time off. Many prestigious universities, such as Princeton, allow students to delay the start of their freshman year in order to engage in college-sponsored service. Almost all four-year colleges and some two-year colleges have study abroad programs and internships outside the regular classroom.

Is a gap year a good idea? It is a personal and family choice, but if you are going to do it, make it meaningful. Don’t just do it to take a year off.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District for 20 years. She currently operates a college admissions consulting business and can be reached at jillncca@yahoo.com. or at .


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