A gap year is a year that students take between high school and college, usually doing some sort of structured, non-academic activity.
Sounds nuts. Why would anyone do this?
The reasons are many, but here are a few of the more common ones:
- A student is academically burnt out and needs a break from academics to recharge
- A student doesn’t yet have the maturity to succeed in college (did you know that the male brain and executive functioning capacity doesn’t fully mature until the late 20’s?!)
- A student has a passion that they want to pursue prior to college
- A student’s not that into the idea of college, (or parents aren’t that into the idea of dropping $200K on a “meh, I guess I’ll go” response)
- A student wants to gain more experience to then be able to make the best of college
- A student feels like they need another go at the college admissions process
Thinking the gap year might be right for your student? Here are some pros and cons to consider.
GAP YEAR: Pros
- According to an Australian study published in August in the Journal of Educational Psychology, taking a gap year is linked to higher motivation in college.
- Taking a structured Gap Year invariably serves to develop the individual into a more focused student with a better sense of purpose and engagement in the world.
- According to American Gap Association statistics, taking a gap year helped focus student academic and career paths: 84% say it helped them acquire skills to be successful in future careers, and 73% say the experience increased their college readiness.
GAP YEAR: Cons
- Some students may view the gap year as a vacation. Without a clear plan, the gap year can pass by without doing much positive good for your student. If your student isn’t willing to put in the work to plan a productive gap year, then they shouldn’t take one.
- Financial concerns can impact a student’s gap year. Not every parent can support their children completely during the gap year. Your student may need to work, or they may be able to secure a scholarship or grant from a gap year program or college.
Even after discussing the pros and cons of a gap year, I typically hear three major concerns from parents:
- “Next year, my student will be ‘too old’ for college.” College isn’t high school: a college classroom often includes both lower- and upperclassmen, sometimes with graduate students or non-traditional students mixed in. Age is rarely an issue, especially a single year.
- “How do I know my student will go back to school?” This is one of my favorite excuses, because the best counter-argument is simply to wait until they work a full-time job. After 40-hour work weeks, most teenagers will beg to go back to school! In fact, according to a study, 90% of students who took a gap year ended up going back to school within a year. If you’re still concerned that your student may “drop out”, it may be wise to gain admission to a college that will allow a deferral enrollment for the following year.
- “Why should my student wait if s/he is ready now?” Adapting to a new set of academic and social responsibilities is not easy for everyone; the first semester of college is often a difficult transition. It can be fun and fulfilling to tackle these responsibilities on your own schedule, without the added burden of a strict class schedule, the stress of dorm living, or tuition. Your student may be ready intellectually now, but a gap year will likely leave them extremely prepared, not just ready.
If your student is considering a gap year, I always stress a well-rounded and structured approach, with an emphasis on personal growth. For example:
Summer: Apply for summer employment and begin planning for your upcoming fall.
September–January: You may want to participate in academic, social, and career enrichment opportunities specifically designed for gap years; some great places to find these opportunities are:
- Apply for a job with the skills you learned from the fall, intern at a potential future workplace, or take a course at your local community college.
- You can also travel, especially if you needed the fall to help you save up for your trip.
July–September: Continue any of the opportunities you’ve started over the past year. Don’t forget to take time to relax and connect with friends!
The above plan is designed to help your student begin college after a gap year with a set of advantages: a rested mind, additional education (potentially in both the academic and career arenas), increased confidence from spending time in “the real world,” and an extra year of overall maturity. Too often, we allow personal growth to happen while we’re busy with other things. But especially during key transition times, the self should be the priority. Imagine how much more a student with a clear sense of passion and purpose can get out of the college experience!
Remember: college is ultimately about your student becoming their own person. Deferring enrollment until after a gap year can be a very rewarding stage on this personal journey, but only if it’s the right fit for your student!
This blog was written by Signet Education’s CEO & Co-Founder, Jay Bacrania with assistance from Signet tutor, Matt Grzecki. Jay has worked extensively with both special needs and high achieving students. He has taken a broad academic path that spans the sciences and humanities. Jay holds an BA in Comparative Study of Religion from Harvard University and attended Berklee College of Music for two years for Jazz Trumpet Performance. Beyond tutoring, Jay is interested in managing and refining Signet Education. You can almost always bet on finding him there at all hours, teaching or finding ways to make Signet even better!
Signet Education provides exceptional individualized tutoring, test prep, admissions consulting, and organizational coaching for students.