Is Applying to College DURING a Gap Year a Disadvantage?

Question: I want to take a gap year and apply to college during my gap year. Will I be at a disadvantage? I’m looking at top schools! I’m in my last year of A levels right now which is equivalent to 12th grade in high school. I emailed Princeton and they say it’s alright with them but I just need some reassurance!

I used to tell students aiming for a gap year that it would be wise to finalize their college plans while still in high school. But, over the eons, I’ve changed my tune. For some students who know where they want to be or who are going to be far from civilization during the gap year, it can make sense to apply to colleges while still in high school and to then request a deferral once admitted.

Increasingly, however, I see the wisdom in postponing the application process until the gap year, as you propose. Why?

For starters, the world has gotten smaller or at least more accessible. In the old days, students who waited until after high school graduation to apply to college found that it could be tough to access teachers and counselors in order to request recommendations, send transcripts, etc. But now, the tentacles of the Internet have solved that problem for all but the most remote travelers.

Secondly, parents often fretted that a student who left high school with no college plans would be less likely to return to school when there’s no paid deposit luring them back. Yet studies have shown that “gappers” do typically head to college after their time off and often arrive with more determination, focus, and energy than those who matriculated straight from high school.

Finally, I’ve observed that the college that seems “perfect” to a 12th grader may lose its luster to a gapper who has had new experiences during the intervening months. Gap years can especially change priorities when it comes to college location and prospective major.

Note, however, that applications will still have to be filed fairly early into your gap period, especially if you are considering Early Decision or Early Action options. Thus, your gap year will give you some extra time to make college choices, to complete applications, and to take standardized tests as required, but you won’t get a full year to do this, of course.

Even so, waiting until you’re out of school to select and apply to colleges will not put you at any disadvantage with admission folks and might even be a plus because it could give you something more interesting to write about than the big soccer final or the senior class trip to Spain. ;-)

So I hope I’ve given you all the reassurance you need. And good luck to you.

(posted 11/5/2012)