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Is Gap Year a “Very Bad” Idea?

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,624 Senior Member
Question: So College Apps are due soon and I honestly have no idea where I want to go or what I want to be. My grade and ACT/SAT scores are very good but I was thinking of taking a year off between HS and college before applying. My mom says its a terrible idea since colleges think its bad but I wasn’t going to waste it. I was hoping to use the free time to maybe take some classes, tour some colleges, do volunteer work, Save up some money, etc. Just do something productive without the pressure of school and grades. Then I wouldn’t have to rush my college apps for schools and majors I’m not even sure I want to go into. I could maybe improve my SAT and ACT scores more by taking them again. I didn’t take the SAT subject tests so I could take those as well. If I make it productive, would taking a gap year before applying be a very bad idea?

WHAT DID "THE DEAN" SAY?

See http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/gap-year-bad-idea/

Replies to: Is Gap Year a “Very Bad” Idea?

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,831 Senior Member
    Since the question includes "I was hoping to use the free time to maybe take some classes", the answer should note that taking college courses after high school graduation may cause colleges to require that the student apply as a transfer than as a frosh (each college's threshold may differ, so each much be checked individually on its policy here). This is often less favorable to the student in many ways (including scholarships).
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,831 Senior Member
    I think that study is too old to be relevant now and it doesn’t break out the reason for the gap year or the level of high school achievement for the student taking a gap year. For a strong student with no financial barrier to a college education, I don’t see a downside to a productive gap year.

    Note that forum demographics are very different from overall demographics. It is rather likely that most actual gap year students are not the strong students with no financial barriers to a college education (as is commonly the assumption on these forums), but those who cannot go to college immediately due to financial limitations (combined with not achieving highly enough to earn sufficient scholarships or admission to colleges with good financial aid). So they have to work (or serve in the military) to try to earn money (or veterans' benefits) to pay for college. Some such students may not have been initially interested in college at high school graduation, but eventually became interested later, though "life happens" can be a barrier to enrolling or completing college.
  • catbird1catbird1 Registered User Posts: 128 Junior Member
    If I had gone straight to college, I don't think it would have ended well. I wouldn't have been motivated to do the necessary college research, so I would have grudgingly gone to State U, which is a good school but a poor fit for me. I probably would have been deeply unhappy and subsequently dropped out to get a job.

    Instead...I worked full-time for two years after I graduated, and now go to my perfect-fit college. I'm much more motivated to work hard and do well than I would have been otherwise, because I'm at the right school for me and have an idea of what field I want to work in post-grad. I wouldn't have had either of those things if I had gone straight out of high school.

    Gap years aren't necessarily a good fit for every student - but I would love to see them more widely considered as a positive option. I think many students are discouraged by concerns from peers/guidance counselors/parents that are largely unfounded.
  • Much2learnMuch2learn Registered User Posts: 4,375 Senior Member
    While each student is different, it seems to me that the longer getting through college takes, the more likely it is that something will happen in life that keeps you from finishing your undergraduate degree.

    For that reason, I think that in general it is better to start college right after high school, when possible.
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 31,310 Super Moderator
    It really depends on my student. For my middle child, it was absolutely the right decision. He actually took 2 1/2 gap years and it changed his life. He volunteered one year in Jordan and the next year in Lebanon, and discovered that his passion is helping refugees. After those experiences, he took one semester of classes at our local school and then enrolled in the American University of Beirut, where he is currently a second-semester sophomore.

    I hate to think what would have happened if we had pushed him to start college right out of high school. It would have been a disaster.
  • preppedparentpreppedparent Registered User Posts: 2,249 Senior Member
    I think gap years are always a good thing. The problem is once a student has left the private or LPS, the way the application is set up, it's near impossible for some students to get a college counselor or guidance counselor rec letter which is often required.

    Once graduated, the student is no longer the high school's responsibility. All would be well if only the application for gap year students could be different with no expectation other than a transcript is needed from the high school.
  • DustyfeathersDustyfeathers Registered User Posts: 2,084 Senior Member
    Gap years are great. Even Harvard recommends gap years, if you look on its site you will see a loooong essay explaining that they are really great for students.

    As long as the student doesn't get married or have children, they have a chance to try out the world a little. One of my kids is on a gap period currently. The second year. The first year was all decompression from the rigors of school. Then one day the child took a piggy bank's worth of savings and took off on a Grayhound Bus 1500 miles away. No parental support, except for phone and medical insurance. Child has job, pays rent, set up a savings account, and seems to be happy. A fully fledged adult at age 19. Maybe this child won't go to college? I suspect college is in this child's future though.

    the biggest benefit I see in gap years is a chance to figure out interests and gain real experience before college. They get a chance to explore BEFORE THEY HAVE SCHOOL LOANS. Once you have loans, there's n chance to try this and try that. You have to service the loans.

    Also there are several programs available for nontraditional students that are closed to traditional students. Some schools offer special entrance and special scholarships.

    I keep begging Child Number 2 to take a gap year, but this child is so excited about Early Decision Choice 1 that gap year is out of the question.
  • Much2learnMuch2learn Registered User Posts: 4,375 Senior Member

    Here is a chart from the only study I have seen on taking a gap year. Clearly, the students taking a gap year are not a homogenous group, but it does show that overall, the students who take a gap year graduate a significantly lower rates than students who start right away.

    That is the outcome I would expect, simply because the longer it takes, life happens and more and more students have life events happen that prevent them from finishing. While I think the direct to college approach is preferable, there are definitely student for whom a gap year it is the right decision. I just don't think it is right for most students.


    https://nces.ed.gov/das/epubs/showTable2004.asp?tableID=1478&rt=p
  • itsgettingreal17itsgettingreal17 Registered User Posts: 2,912 Senior Member
    I think that study is too old to be relevant now and it doesn’t break out the reason for the gap year or the level of high school achievement for the student taking a gap year. For a strong student with no financial barrier to a college education, I don’t see a downside to a productive gap year.
  • massmom2018massmom2018 Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
    I took a gap year 25 years ago to be an exchange student in Spain. I highly recommend applying to college as a senior and having all of that worked out. Many schools will approve a gap year if you ask. I would not recommend trying to apply for college when you are out of high school--the system is not set up for that. My senior son is applying to college now and will likely defer for a year to also be an exchange student.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,624 Senior Member
    As I said earlier, I used to urge would-be Gappers to apply to college while still in high school and then defer. But now I've changed my tune and offer instead an unsatisfying, "It depends." For instance, the student who sent the original "Ask the Dean" query claims that he has no idea where he wants to go to college or what he wants to study. So his needs would not be well served by applying to college this fall. Sure, he may be just as clueless in 12 months, but there's also a decent chance that he'll have at least a little more direction by then.

    Also, a growing number of colleges that grant deferred enrollment to admitted students now require the student to sign a statement promising not to apply elsewhere during the year off or risk losing their place in the class. This can be a ball and chain for Gappers who expand their horizons during their time off and want to consider additional options.
  • GWYalie1994GWYalie1994 Registered User Posts: 74 Junior Member
    edited October 29
    A gap year can be very helpful despite what some of your peers might think because it can really allow you to find yourself and reconcile your own reasons for going to college rather than just committing to a college early on because that's what society expects of you. And I know a number of people who- despite all the criticism and peer pressure- have taken a gap year and gone on to do very big things like ultimately attending Ivy League graduate schools. Lose yourself to find yourself...honestly.
  • bopperbopper Registered User Posts: 8,046 Senior Member
    Make sure you talk to your teachers/GC about a gap year...see if they can write you recommendations now and hold on to them so when you apply next year they remember who you are.
  • LizaVillatoroLizaVillatoro Registered User Posts: 24 New Member
    I don't think that a productive gap year will be a problem and it depends on the student on how one will manage it.
  • heyhello99heyhello99 Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    My d is currently taking a gap year in Europe. She is very happy with her decision to wait a year before starting college. She did not do it for financial reasons. She was undecided about where to study, and she just wanted to see something of the world before continuing her education. She already has a better sense of where she wants to study. She just submitted her college applications for next year, and I am sure that her experiences abroad actually made her a stronger applicant (independence, foreign language skills, work experience...). To be honest, I would not want my kids to go to a college that sees taking a year to work, volunteer or travel as a problem!
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