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Should You Consider a Gap Year?

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

A "gap year" is not a vacation. You should have a real purpose, whether it's pursuing a passion, exploring another culture, or diving into the world of work.

A Gap Year Can Recharge Your Batteries

A gap year is time that you use, before you start college, to reconnect with learning and engage your curiosity. The possibilities are endless, but here are some examples.

  • You might spend your year working in your hometown—or living in a foreign country and learning a language.
  • You might move to a nearby big city and pursue a passion—or do service work in a third-world country.
  • You might pay thousands of dollars on an experience that is structured for you—or get a job that actually pays you.

Whatever you choose to do, be sure it challenges you.

Most Colleges Look Favorably on Gap Years

Many colleges appreciate 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 a freshman year abroad, which offers some of the benefits of a gap year.

Colleges will expect you to provide a journal or other written account of your gap year. It should include reflections on your experience and explain what you learned about yourself and the world around you.

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

Students taking a gap year usually accept admission to a college and then formally ask for an enrollment deferral. Most colleges will react favorably if you pay your admission deposit, describe your plans, and explain how you will document your experience. It's a good idea to discretely find out the college's policy for such deferrals before you accept admittance.

If your senior grades are strong, but your earlier grades are not, you might want to wait and apply to college during your gap year. You can use your gap-year accomplishments to strengthen your application.

Consider the Downsides of a Gap Year Before You Decide

Many students enjoy the camaraderie of starting college with their peers. If you take a gap year, you'll start college a year older—although maybe wiser—than other freshmen. You may feel a bit out of place.

Taking a gap year also means you'll likely graduate at least a year later than your peers. Depending on how much you pay for your gap year, it may add to the cost of attaining your undergraduate degree.

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 find out about the range of gap year experiences you might have, visit these websites: USA Gap Year Fairs and Yale's Gap Year Resources & Programs.