In addition to being a huge concern for the majority of college-bound students, money one of the top reasons cited by those who choose to drop out prior to graduation. Taking one or more “gap years”—that is, time off between high school and college—can be an attractive option depending on your financial situation, but you should carefully consider the following before deciding:
1. Am I looking at the bigger financial picture?
Many students automatically assume that they will not be able to afford college, and so they fail to explore the literally thousands of common avenues for funding that exist. Do yourself a favor: Complete the FAFSA and talk to a counselor or a college aid representative about the scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and loans that may be available to you before choosing to delay college enrollment.
2. How much can I really earn?
According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2010 median earnings for young adults with a high school diploma or its equivalent was $29,900, a figure that can vary drastically based on factors like industry and location. Unless you have a specific position lined up, it may be difficult to estimate what you’ll earn, but having at least a ballpark figure will help you budget for the various possibilities.
3. Will the savings outweigh my monthly expenses?
If you’re one of those lucky students who can live at home and avoid having a car payment, you can save more during a gap year than the student who has to pay rent, cell phone, and other monthly expenses. But keep in mind that even under the most frugal circumstances, there will be everyday costs of living to take into consideration, which can impact the total amount you’re able to save.
4. Can I trust myself to go back when it’s time?
One inherent problem with the gap year is that it can be hard to switch gears from the workforce back to a more academic frame of mind. If you ultimately choose to take a year “off,” be prepared to reckon with any number of factors—a comfortable salary, freedom from the classroom, and budding career opportunties are just a few. If earning a degree is important to you, it’s crucial to keep your academic goals in sight and remember that, in general, a high school diploma can only get you so far.