Are you (or your student) considering taking a gap year between high school and college?
The gap year has long been popular in Europe, and has increased in the last decade in the U.S. However, is it the right move for you? There are several things to consider before taking a year break between high school and college.
“While interest in gap years is growing in America, less than 1% of U.S. students take them, compared with 30% in the U.K., according to Ethan Knight, executive director of the American Gap Association (AGA), an accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap year programs.”
First, determine the goal for your gap year.
Students should talk with their parents, high school counselors, and perhaps a College Advisor to determine their goals for their gap year. Taking a year off “just because” can spell trouble. Students should set out with specific goals. Do they want to travel, work, or volunteer during their gap year?
Frances Bridges from Forbes says, “Taking a gap year in the U.S. is a unique choice, and one that should have enough thought put into it that the rationale could be articulated well. Many of the best benefits of taking a gap year are difficult to quantify: maturity, confidence and a refined sense of direction for instance. As a result, many of the questions you need to ask yourself are deep and broad.”
Once the students are able to articulate their reasons for taking a gap year, they need to decide if they should participate in a formal program, apply for internships or work at a paid job, or how they will volunteer or gain those life experiences to contribute to their overall goals for their gap year.
Is the college you want to attend gap-year friendly?
Students should consider if the college they want to attend is “gap-year friendly”. Some colleges may frown on you applying during high school and then deferring enrollment for a year. You might, instead decide to wait to apply during your gap year. Others encourage and even help facilitate gap year programs.
Not all colleges and universities have a formal deferral process, so students need to make sure that their acceptance and financial aid package won’t be affected by taking a gap year. Students need to have an ongoing conversation with their college admissions counselor.
A 2013/2014 list of gap-year friendly schools can be found here: http://www.americangap.org/fav-colleges.php
Some of the gap-year friendly Pennsylvania colleges and universities listed on the above site are: Seton Hill University, Carnegie Mellon University, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Washington & Jefferson College, Wilson College, and York College of Pennsylvania
According to the information provided to the above site by the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: "You can apply to Penn after a gap year. You would apply as a freshman with all the same requirements, including test results, transcripts, etc. In addition, you would need to submit a supplemental essay to your application explaining why you needed to take a gap year and what you did during that year."
Princeton University has a school-sponsored bridge (gap) year program. https://www.princeton.edu/bridgeyear/
Can you afford to take a gap year?
The cost of some formal gap year programs (such as overseas travel) can be cost prohibitive for most students and their families. Some organizations have started offering scholarships.
According to a July 2014 article, “the amount that a student will pay for various experiences during a gap year can vary, but it is not uncommon for formal programs to cost several thousand dollars. The cost of taking time away can be prohibitive for many young people, and often gap years are seen as luxuries for those who are more affluent. To help provide gap year experiences for students of more modest means, some organizations have begun offering need-based scholarships. Gap year programs surveyed by the AGA gave just under $3 million in need-based scholarships in 2013", according to Knight.
For some students, a gap year could save them money in the long run, because it can help the student avoid extra semesters of college tuition and fees. Gap years, when done right, can help students find their passions and settle on a major early in their college career, instead of spending extra time and money on unnecessary classes to discover their chosen career path.
Also, if students are working or doing a paid internship during that gap year, that extra earned money can be put toward education expenses.
What skills will you gain (or lose) during your gap year?
Students also need to consider what skills they hope to gain during a gap year, and what skills they might lose by taking a year away from formal education. For example, since gap years are still uncommon for the U.S., students might find that they are a year behind their friends and peers who have already started attending college. They also may lose some of the momentum they gained in the classroom, with study habits, etc.
However, there are many skills to be gained that can translate better to “real-life”. For example, if the student desires to pursue a career as a veterinarian, can he or she benefit from a gap-year of working with animals hands-on? These skills can directly translate to the student's time in the classroom when he or she starts college classes.
Gap years can be valuable experiences for some students, but a lot of time and thought needs to be put into the decision before a student makes the choice to defer college for a year. Christianson Tutorials may be able to help you decide. Contact us if you would like to discuss this topic more.