Taking a college gap year


Let’s say your student comes to you and says they want to take a gap year. You might be picturing sleeping in and hanging out with friends for a year-long summer vacation. But a gap year should be much more productive than that.

What is a gap year?

You might have heard of a gap year before — a semester or year in between high school graduation and the start of college, where a student participates in some form of experiential learning to gain valuable life experience before beginning their college career. According to the Gap Year Association, students who take an intentional gap year find that they have a clearer idea of what they want to study in college, get experience with earning and budgeting, and expand their leadership skills. 

Based on the Gap Year Association’s alumni survey, 98% of students said that taking a gap year helped them develop as a person, 96% said it increased their self-confidence and 93% said it helped them develop communication skills. Students can grow personally and professionally during their gap year.

There are many reasons a student may want to take a gap year. If they’re feeling burnt out from the academic setting, taking a break will help them return to academia feeling refreshed and ready. Some students feel uncertain of what degree to pursue, and having some practical experience before college will help them narrow down a career path. Whatever the reason, if your student is expressing interest in taking some time off before college, there are plenty of ways to make the most of that time.

Considering a gap year

If your student is considering taking a gap year, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, how long are they intending to take off between high school and college? If any of the schools they’re interested in offer a spring semester start, it’s worth considering taking the summer and fall off before starting in the spring. Or, depending on what your student wants to do during their gap year, a full year might make more sense. 

Planning a gap year

Students have lots of options for what to do during a gap year. Volunteer work will give your student valuable life experience and a sense of community, while also adding to their professional resume. An internship or paid job will give them a sense of where they’d like to take their career with a college degree, as well as giving them experience with budgeting and financial literacy. Some students have a less structured experience, traveling or doing some combination of volunteer and creative independent work as a means of self-discovery. 

While an important part of the gap year experience is for your student to learn independence and shape the time into what they want, it is also important for your student to have some level of structure and planning beforehand to ensure they’re getting the most out of the experience. What are their goals? What are the financial and timing limitations? And how are they preparing to attend college when they’re done? 

Many schools offer deferrals, so your student should apply to their colleges of choice, and then after being accepted request to delay enrollment for either a semester or a full year. Take a look at the Gap Year Association’s advice for the gap-to-college process for more details on how to best prepare for returning to academia after taking a year off.