Editor’s note: next week, we'll be back with part two of this series on gap years, specifically focused on how colleges really feel about this option, when to apply to college if you’re intending on taking a gap year, and how doing so might affect your financial aid package.
The college admissions experience can take many forms. While many students begin attending college during the summer or fall immediately after finishing up high school, this linear pathway is not the only road that leads to a successful college experience. After the intensity of submitting college applications, maintaining good grades, engaging in standardized testing, participating in extracurriculars, and writing (so many!!) essays, an increasing number of students are choosing to take a gap year before they begin their college career.
What is a gap year?
A gap year is typically a period of time following high school graduation when a student may choose to pursue other interests and activities before officially starting college. During this time, which can be as long as an entire year or as short as a semester or a few months, students may engage in diverse enrichment experiences to continue exploring their interests and developing skills in unique areas. Some students may choose to apply to college during their senior year admissions cycle, receive their admissions decisions, and then request a gap year deferral to essentially “hold their spot” in a future incoming freshman class. Others may apply to college during their gap year, instead opting to use their final year of high school as an opportunity to craft a stellar senior year experience showcasing their efforts.
Why might a student consider taking a gap year?
For some students, a gap year is an opportunity to take a creative time out, if you will, and engage in personally fulfilling pursuits, from academics, to travel, to career opportunities. For others, it’s a chance to take a physical or mental health break to leave them better prepared to enter college and navigate the emotional and academic stressors. For some students, taking a gap year also presents an opportunity to pursue full-time employment or a paid internship that may help offset some of the financial responsibilities associated with attending college, thus serving a dual purpose of contributing to the student’s personal growth, while also providing a practical source of financial support.
What does taking a gap year involve?
A gap year typically takes place before a student begins attending college, and there are few parameters as to the types of activities and experiences that a student may choose to pursue as part of their gap year, meaning that it doesn’t have to only encompass academic endeavors, but may also include experiential or career-oriented activities.
Students may choose to take this time to:
- Explore the world in the form of travel;
- Take on full- or part-time employment or an internship to gain practical experience (and possibly earn money to put towards college costs), while developing their career interests;
- Study a foreign language or engage in cultural immersion;
- Perform meaningful service work (domestically or abroad); or
- Work on applying to college if they did not submit applications during their senior year of high school.
For students who are looking to weave a learning/academic component into their gap year experiences, our guidance is to ensure that students are not enrolling in any credit-bearing college courses during that time to avoid becoming transfer students at the point when they do enroll in college.
In that situation, it adds a layer of complexity to the process, especially if the student originally applied to college during their senior year of high school, was admitted as a “freshman/first time in college” (i.e., with no college credits), and requested a formal deferral from their chosen college or university to pursue the gap year (more on that process in our next post). For that reason, students choosing to pursue academic gap year opportunities must ensure that they select enrichment programs specifically marketed as a gap year and not coursework to earn formal college credits. Trust us, we’ve seen this happen before, and taking even a few courses for college credit can complicate the admissions process when questions about incoming freshman vs. transfer student status arise.
Those are the gap year basics—what it is, why people do it, and why you might consider it. In the next post, I’ll explain specifics about the gap year and the admissions process, including how colleges really feel about this option, when to apply to college if you’re intending on taking a gap year, and how doing so might affect your financial aid package.
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.