Jan. 26, 2021
For some, the idea of transitioning directly from high school to college sounds less than ideal. Instead, these students choose to take a gap year between the two. Some do so to first gain some real-world experience before strolling onto a college campus. Others might find a gap year necessary for financial reasons. Sometimes, health — either that of the student or of a family member — can play a role in this decision. Regardless of why you might be considering taking a year (or just a semester) off, here are three tips to ensure you don't fall behind during your time away from school.
The gap year can help to reset and refocus you for the rigor to come over the course of your college career. However, I don't recommend a full reboot; that is, while things are still fresh in your mind, try to get some of the leg work out of the way now so that you don't have to worry about it later. I recommend applying to college as a high school senior and deferring your acceptance once you get in.
Completing your college application while you're still in school offers you plenty of benefits, the greatest being the access you have to resources such as your teachers and high school advisor. Remaining in contact after graduation is great, but it can be difficult once you've left your high school behind. Those teachers and advisors will have a whole new crop of college-bound seniors to focus on next year, so make use of their assistance while you can! It'll be infinitely easier than pulling everything for your applications together after your gap year. Plus, knowing which school you'll attend in a year will give you peace of mind and allow you to make the most of your time away from school.
(Also note that while you can get most of the work out of the way now with applications and deferral, you'll still have to apply — or reapply — for financial aid with the FAFSAbefore you return to school after your time away.)
Before you can apply to schools, you'll of course need to do a bit of research! Information you'll want to look for includes:
- Schools that allow deferred admission
- Internships, fellowships or programs targeting students between high school and college
- Schools with built-in gap semesters/years
This last one might be new to you, but there are some colleges and universities that offer what can essentially be a built-in gap semester or year, whether in the form of spending your first semester abroad or in an environment outside the classroom. For example, Princeton University offers a tuition-free Bridge Year Program, which facilitates months of international community service for select admitted students. Similarly, Tufts University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have fellowship programs that offer funded service years to admitted students.
You'll have to decide whether these programs are the break from the classroom you have in mind, but no matter what you'll want to be familiar with the processes, potential fees or deadlines associated with deferring admission wherever you choose to apply.
The last thing you want to do during your gap year is arrive on campus less prepared than you would have been if you'd gone straight from high school to college. If you have a clear sense of what you want to do with your time away and a concrete opportunity to pursue it, you'll arrive with even more to offer than you would have as a high school senior. However, if you want to take a year off simply because you think a break might be nice after 12 years of school, I suggest you buckle down and head off to college right away.
Carefully weigh the value of any “real world" opportunities you're getting in a gap year against the potential difficulty of acclimating to the structure and schedule of university life after a year spent elsewhere. If you must defer, do your best to keep yourself academically active and ready to return.
No matter where you are in your research or application process, our books The Best 385 Colleges and The Complete Book of Colleges can help you narrow down your list of target schools. From there, you'll want to get a head start on how to fund your college years, whether they start now or later — and our books Paying for College and 8 Steps to Paying Less for College have tips and strategies to help you do just that.