Should You Take a Gap Year Before College? Weigh the Pros and Cons
These days, it seems more and more high school students are entertaining the notion of taking a “gap year” after they graduate high school before attending college. Students who express interest in taking a gap year often do so for a variety of reasons, and there are certainly plenty of pros and cons to consider before making the decision to take a gap year. In this article, we’ll consider some pros and cons that you might take into account!
Why might a student want to take a gap year?
Students might want to take a gap year after they graduate high school for a variety of reasons. Maybe they’re burnt out from school. Maybe their SAT and ACT scores are not impressive enough for them to gain admission to the college of their dreams, and they hope to dedicate a year to prepping for (and acing) the all-important test. Maybe they want to work a job and save money, as college isn’t cheap. Perhaps they’re hoping to gain residency in a new state in order to enjoy in-state tuition at a public university away from home. Some students might want to travel throughout the United States or Europe before hunkering down for serious academic study. Others might not know what they’re passionate about and don’t want to waste their money in college without a clear direction in mind. Whatever your reasons for taking a gap year, be certain to carefully weigh the pros and cons and make the decision that’s best for you not only in the moment, but in the long run. Be good to your future self!
What are the PROS of taking a gap year?
Taking a gap year allows students to rest and recharge from a difficult high school experience. Maybe high school was particularly exhausting and stressful for you and you’re not ready for college. There’s no need to rush!
If students are able to secure work during their gap year, they can get a taste of the real world and earn some money for college. Chances are that whatever job students get during their gap year won’t be glamorous—waiting tables, for instance, or working at a movie theatre. Working a non-glamorous, low-paying job when you’re young is actually quite desirable. It teaches you the value of hard work, making you treasure the money you’ve earned on your own. It also serves to motivate you to aspire to bigger and better things. When you’ve waited tables for a year, you’ll be longing for a better-paying, less stressful job in which you can actually put your passions and skills to good use.
Students taking a gap year can also pursue personal projects, community service projects, internships, business ideas, and so on, which will make their college application even more attractive. As long as you’re not wasting your gap year (more on that later), taking a gap year can actually benefit you when it comes to getting into a great college.
Perhaps your SAT and ACT scores are less than stellar, and you’d prefer to dedicate yourself full-time to prepping for the SAT and ACT. High school students juggle SAT and ACT prep with academic work, extracurricular activities, chores, and so on. When taking a gap year, your only responsibility could be studying for the SAT and ACT. Imagine what sort of a score you’d achieve on the SAT and ACT if you spent eight hours a day studying for these tests and took every SAT and ACT offerred during the year. Your scores might grow to a level that allows you to be a competitive applicant to some of the best colleges and universities in the nation.
During your gap year, you might travel in order to gain some street smarts, meet people, network, learn a new language, experience unfamiliar cultures, celebrate your high school graduation, and so on. By giving yourself a year to roam, you’ll better appreciate the structure that college provides, and perhaps you’ll party less when you’re in school.
What are the CONS of taking a gap year?
The main potential pitfall of taking a gap year has to do with physics:
a body in motion tends to stay in motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Though you may enter your gap year with the noblest of intentions, make sure you don’t suffer the same fate as Alice in Wonderland, who laments that she gives herself very good advice but very seldom follows it.
What if you fail to get a job or internship and spend your gap year in your parents’ basement covered in Cheeto dust and playing video games? Chances are your parents won’t be very pleased with you. Sinking into inactivity will lead you to intellectual and professional stagnation, and stagnation isn’t static; you’ll be on a downward trend.
Be absolutely certain that you FOLLOW THROUGH with your gap year plans. It can be very, very tempting to say to yourself “Why go to college? I enjoy being lazy and living off of the generosity of my parents.” Though that might seem like an easy path in the moment, it’s the worst possible outcome for your future self. Be kind to person you’ll be ten years, twenty years, fifty years from now.
What should you do?
No one can answer the question of whether you should take a gap year or not but you. Consult with your parents, your counselors, your teachers, your friends.
If you DO decide to take a gap year, create a detailed plan and ask someone to hold you accountable for the execution of that plan. You could even PAY that person to nag you and keep you on task if you struggle with following through with your plans.
So long as you have a well-formulated plan for your gap year and the discipline to put that plan into action, a gap year can actually benefit you intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, and financially. HOWEVER, the risks of slipping into inactivity and leaving the academic world behind should NEVER be underestimated. It takes discipline, maturity, and commitment to make a gap year work. Be absolutely certain you’ve weighed the pros and cons of a gap year and talked it over with your parents before forgoing college applications senior year.
Best of luck!
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