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Articles / Admissions / Can a Gap Year Student Apply Elsewhere?

April 28, 2020

Can a Gap Year Student Apply Elsewhere?

Question: If I commit to a college and then take a gap year, can I still apply to other schools? I got denied or waitlisted at all my top universities. So now I am deciding between Boston College and Northeastern University. I know they're both great schools but I'm having a hard time getting excited about either one. So I'm thinking of putting down a deposit at one of those two and then taking a gap year. During my gap year, I will apply to some new colleges and definitely reapply to a school that waitlisted me that I especially like. (On my new application I can make a stronger case for why it's the perfect fit for me.) But one of my friends, who was a senior last year, decided to take a gap year after committing to a college, and that college made him sign a statement saying that, if he applied anywhere else, he would have to give up his place. Do all colleges do that? If so, there's really not any point in putting down a deposit since I'm sure I will apply to some other schools, even though I would also worry about missing out on BC or Northeastern. A lot of people have told me how lucky I am to have those choices, so I really don't want to mess that up, in case I get rejected next year too.

“The Dean" is annoyed by countless admission practices and one of them is this policy you've just described. It's when a college accepts a deposit from a gap-year student and then also extracts a promise that the student will not apply elsewhere during the year off. Many admission officials are quick to sing the praises of the gap-year concept, noting that their applicants who spend time away from school often return more mature and focused than the typical freshman. So can't these folks realize that the broadening qualities of the gap-year experience may lead teenagers to new interests and thus to new campuses? The 18-year-old who wanted a small liberal arts college near home may find that, as a 19-year-old who's sheared sheep in Australia or taught toddlers in Chicago, those priorities … and plans … have dramatically changed.


Two colleges that blipped on my radar screen during recent gap-year discussions, Middlebury and Yale, both demand a signed commitment from prospective gappers. The majority of colleges, however, do not. And, luckily for you, neither BC nor Northeastern will require you to pledge any oath of loyalty. You will, however, need to pay an enrollment deposit ($500-$600) and expect to lose it if you eventually matriculate elsewhere.

I wish you well in your quest to find an alma mater that excites you. However, you may discover that, after a year outside of the classroom, you'll be eager to return … perhaps even to one of the places that has already welcomed you.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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