According to a recent survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, about 1.2% of students entering a four year college or university choose to postpone their freshman year – instead taking a year off between high school and college, commonly known as a “gap year”. This percentage has been steady over the last several years, but an increase in the number of gap year programs popping up across the country has attracted the attention of students and parents alike. Curious about the gap year trend? Keep reading!
Taking time off before starting college can give you the opportunity to learn more about yourself and what inspires you, as well as take risks and explore different interests without the usual stresses associated with a busy college schedule. And if you are unsure of why you are going to college or what you want to study, a year off can help you find answers to those questions before starting school, which means you will not waste time and money. A gap year, however, is not meant to be a year-long vacation you spend sitting on the couch eating junk food.
No matter what your reasons are for wanting to take a gap year, there are two major things to consider:
- Expectations: Determine your goals for the year and find a program or develop your own to meet those goals. Do you want to stay close to home or travel? Do you want to gain career experience or serve as a volunteer? Would you rather be on your own or part of a group program? What do you want to learn or achieve during your time off? Be realistic about your expectations and priorities for your time off and most importantly - have a plan. Reach out to other students who have taken a gap year, talk with your parents, do your research and review information from lots of programs before making any final decisions.
- Budget – Before committing to any gap year plan, make sure you thoroughly understand any associated costs. Can you afford the living and travel expenses? If your budget is tight, you might consider a semester-long or summer program, rather than a full year, so you can use the remaining time to work and save money for the school year ahead.
Taking a gap year is not an excuse to throw all caution to the wind - it takes preparation and commitment. Whether you choose to work, travel or volunteer, be aware that most of your peers will be headed off to college after graduation, so if you choose to postpone your college experience make sure you are comfortable taking the road less traveled.
Another tip - The college admissions process is easier to undergo while you are still in high school. If you are a high school student considering a gap year, it is best to complete the college application process and (if accepted) contact the college you would like to attend to discuss deferring your admission to allow for a gap year.