For a variety of reasons, many graduating high school seniors choose to take time off before enrolling in college. Some leave high school with a desire to travel the world; others are unsure of their academic or financial direction and want to gain experience in the “real world” before making a big commitment. Whatever the reason, if you’re considering taking a break, understanding the pros and cons will help keep your “gap year” from stretching on indefinitely.
How Can a Gap Year Help?
For goal-oriented students, a gap year can be extremely beneficial in gaining perspective. And barring extreme circumstances, many students are able to pick up where they left off after a short break. Here are just a few of the benefits to taking time off before enrolling in a college program:
- A gap year lets students take a step back and “recharge” after years of the daily academic grind.
- Time off allows students time to think about their academic direction and professional goals before jumping in with both feet.
- Work experience (as well as volunteer and goodwill projects) are great résumé-builders and can result in increased focus and maturity—qualities that all competitive colleges like to see in prospective students.
- Working full time can help students save up for tuition and other college costs.
How Can a Gap Year Hurt?
For some students, the gap year is an unproductive experience, especially if they take it for the wrong reasons or fail to establish a clear plan. Take a look at some of the negative effects of taking a break before college:
- For students who fail to develop important habits, it’s easy to lose focus and fall out of the academic routine.
- Watching friends and classmates move on to college before you can be disheartening.
- Students who wait sometimes lose access to guidance counselors, peer support, and even scholarship resources that they had fresh out of high school.
- Holding out for better colleges usually doesn’t pay off unless your gap year activities were particularly impressive or geared toward a specific major.
How to Plan for a Successful Gap Year
To make the most of a break from academic study, many students consult books and Web sites on college planning; talk to their high school counselors, college admission representatives, parents, and trusted teachers; pursue an internship or volunteer opportunity; and seek advice from other students. Be sure to analyze your goals and reasons for taking a gap year before committing to something that could have a major impact on your degree pursuit and subsequent career.