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Should You Consider a Gap Year?

students hiking in the mountains with girl smiling

Are you ready for a new adventure but not sure that starting college qualifies? A well-planned "year off" might make college more meaningful.

A gap year can take many forms and serve many purposes.  For some students, taking a year off between high school and college helps recharge their batteries and reengage with learning. For others, it’s a chance to pursue a passion, explore another culture, test-drive a major, or dive into the world of work.

What Kind of Gap Year is Right for You?

You can design your own program, pay a consultant to design a program for you, or enroll in a pre-structured gap year experience. For example,

  • You might spend a gap year living in a foreign country and learning a foreign language.
  • You might do community service in a third-world country, or in your hometown.
  • You might spend the year working full-time or developing a business idea of your own.

Whatever you choose to do, you may find it rewarding to discover activities that motivate and challenge you, furthering your educational and/or personal growth.

The Upsides of a Gap Year

Many colleges look favorably upon students who take a well-planned gap year. In fact, Harvard has long included a statement in its acceptance letter encouraging applicants to consider the benefits of a year off before enrolling. Some colleges even offer travel abroad during freshman year. With Tufts University’s “bridge-year” program, students perform community service in South America, India, or the United States before starting classes full time.  Florida State University provides funding for gap years to students with financial need. 

Also, according to a survey published by the Gap Year Association, an organization that accredits gap year programs, students who took a gap year reported positive results, including gaining:

  • A better sense of themselves and their values
  • A better understanding of other people, cultures, and ways of living
  • Additional skills and knowledge that contributed to their major or career.

Note that colleges may expect you to provide a journal or other account of your gap year that includes reflections on your experience and what you learned about yourself and the world around you.

Potential Downsides of a Gap Year

You should also consider some of the realities of taking a gap year before you decide to take time away from your studies.

  • You’ll be a year behind and need to consider the fact that many of your close friends will already be well settled into university life by the time you get there.
  • It’ll add an extended period of time to an already potentially lengthy educational process, which could result in you missing out on an early start in your career.
  • A well-planned gap year takes time and thought to put together, almost as much time as applying to college.
  • You may need to reapply for financial aid. While many colleges will let you defer enrollment to take a gap year, and some colleges will hold scholarships you received upon acceptance, you may need to reapply for financial aid when you return.

Apply to College or Take a Gap Year? You Can Do Both!

Some students taking a gap year often accept admission to a college and then formally ask for an enrollment deferral. It's a good idea to find out the college's policy for such deferrals before you accept admittance. Make sure to pay your admission deposit, describe your plans, and explain how you will document your experience. 

However, if you were not accepted to your top-choice colleges, you might want to reapply to college during your gap year.  Your gap-year accomplishments may strengthen your application.

What's Next?

To find out if a college will defer admission, look up its College Profile using College Match. Check the Admission tab under Application Dates and Fees.

To learn more about the wide range of gap year programs available, visit USA Gap Year Fairs.

Study abroad programs offer many of the same benefits of gap years. See 7 Signs Studying Abroad Might be Right for You and How to Tell If a College Has a Strong Study Abroad Program.

The information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.