Should You Take a Gap Year or Go to College Right Away?

High school students lined up for graduation ceremony

If you (or your child) are in your junior or senior year of high school, you’ve probably got too many questions to count. One of them is likely whether to take a gap year, or a year off in between 12th grade and your first semester of college.

Before you decide whether to jump right into your freshman year at your school of choice or hit the pause button on formal education, it’s important to consider the pros and cons.

The Pros

According to some experts, consultants, and even universities, a year away from traditional education can be invaluable.

The general consensus is that a productive gap year can help you form a more holistic view of the world and other cultures, learn more about yourself, and find the direction you want to go in your professional life.

Erica White, a college and career counselor at Middletown High School, said, “Taking a year off to work and save money, travel, intern, or complete community service, can be beneficial in helping a student mature, gain a better sense of career options and a more global perspective on life and work.”

A gap year can also have direct, tangible results. Unique volunteer experiences and extra professional work could take your resume to the next level, and may give you an opportunity to reapply to your college of choice from an advantageous position.

Some universities may even encourage you to take a gap year. Harvard, for instance, provides a pamphlet that outlines some of the best ways to spend your time off and suggests more than 10 organizations that give gap year students opportunities.

The Cons

As positive as taking a gap year can be, there are also a few substantial drawbacks that you should consider.

To begin with, taking a few months off of work to backpack across Europe can be immensely expensive, and not all volunteer programs will cover your food and lodging.

Second, you run the risk of losing scholarships, federal financial aid, and even your spot in your college’s incoming class if you defer your enrollment for a year. Some schools, like Harvard and Princeton, will hold your place. Others may not.

There’s also the matter of allowing your gap year to get away from you. It might be tempting to spend your time off relaxing and taking a break from the stresses of formal education, but ultimately, you’ll accomplish nothing and may even harm your chances of getting into your preferred university.

Danny Ruderman, a college advisor in Los Angeles, said, “Schools want to see you do something productive — where you are gaining a discernible benefit.” He followed up with, “If in six months they are playing Xbox, that is not a good use of finances or resources.”

You should also consider whether you, as a student, run the risk of losing your academic momentum. If the absence of late-night study sessions, early classes and research papers in your life starts to feel too comfortable, you could end up postponing your further education indefinitely.

Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to take a gap year is personal and will be impacted by numerous factors. In order to make the best decision for you, consider speaking with a college counselor or trusted academic advisor.

How to Gain Financial Literacy

Whether you choose to take a gap year or go to college right away, becoming more comfortable with managing your own money is a must. This 3-step guide to financial literacy for young adults can offer some useful tips and advice on how to sharpen your financial skills early on.

Explore Your Guide to Financial Literacy


Published by Minster Bank

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