My last post on this topic explained gap years and some of the reasons students opt to take them. Here, I’ll explore the differences between two important gap year options: (1) applying to college before exploring the gap year option, or (2) begin the gap year and apply to college during that time.
When is a good time to begin thinking about a gap year?
There is no right time to initiate gap year conversations; it’s really up to the student and their family as they begin to think about next steps and which post-high school pathway is the best fit for the student. However, as many formal gap year programs/experiences involve some form of an application process with deadlines (we know, more applications, sigh), it is important for the student to begin their research on programs of interest, sooner rather than later. This involves narrowing down ideas as to when they’d like to take the gap year and for how long, how they’d like to spend their time, and cost/budget factors, especially for experiences abroad that involve travel, official documentation, and housing/accommodations.
For students who wish to attend college after pursuing a gap year, when is the most appropriate time to apply to college?
This is another decision that is best made during ongoing conversations between a student and their parents. But there are essentially two options: (1) apply to college during your senior year of high school, then request a gap year from a school that admitted you, or (2) Apply to college during your gap year.
For students who apply during their senior year and are later granted a deferral to take a gap year, the student’s “spot” is essentially held for the timeframe indicated in their request. What you do during that time is entirely up to you, but it’s important to note that every institution follows its own policies and processes regarding gap year deferrals. Some public university systems, like the University of California and Cal State schools, for instance, may not be as receptive to granting gap year deferrals, while other institutions actively encourage students to follow the path that is most appropriate for them. It’s important to read the fine print for each school before submitting an application for admission to identify 1) whether gap year deferral requests are considered and 2) if they are, when is the best time to apply to that institution (before or during the gap year).
Students who choose option two may enter senior year not quite ready to tackle the college admissions process in the present cycle, instead choosing to focus on putting their efforts and best work towards maintaining good senior year grades and continued engagement in meaningful activities. They are essentially preparing themselves to put their best application foot forward when they do feel ready to apply. In that case, the student would not submit their applications during senior year, but instead kick off their application season during the next admissions cycle, while simultaneously taking their gap year, then starting college the following year.
Is one option better than another?
While there is no preference as to which application path a student chooses to follow, there are some benefits to applying to college during senior year and later requesting a deferral once the gap year decision has been made. During senior year, students have greater opportunities for regular access to their school counselors who are most equipped to support their application process, since the student would still be currently enrolled and going through the steps with their given cohort of peers. This facilitates the sending of official documents (i.e. transcripts, recommendation letters, etc.) and coordination of logistics needed to complete their applications, since they are provided assistance, as their entire senior class goes through the process at a similar pace. Applying post-high school graduation can still be a smooth experience, but it may require a bit more legwork on the student’s part once they’ve moved on and later have to re-connect with their high school to coordinate the piece about sending official high school documents.
As with any important decision about your education, it’s important to seek good advice. Start with your school counselor and take any steps they recommend. Talk with your family about your options and which might be best for you. And don’t forget that the best source of information about any specific college’s policies is always a representative from the college itself.
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