Gap Years: Pros, Cons, & How to Make them Effective
Last updated December 4, 2023
If you're considering taking a gap year, it's important to be informed about your options and any potential consequences in order to make an informed decision. We'll break down what you should know about taking a gap year, like pros, cons, and ways to make it effective.
What is a gap year?
When a student takes a gap year, they do not attend college for a year between their senior year of high school and freshman year of college. There are many reasons a student may take a gap year, such as to save money, focus on their family, travel, and more.
How do I take a gap year?
If you’re thinking about taking a gap year, it’s best to make a decision as soon as possible, as it may affect your college and financial aid plans. If you’re certain you want to take a gap year, you may consider not applying to college your senior year or deferring your admission to the college you plan to attend after your gap year is over.
What are the pros of taking a gap year?
Earn and save money
The high overall cost of attending college means that most students take on debt to receive their education. Working and saving money for a year can help reduce the overall amount of financial aid you need to apply for or borrow.
Determine your college, career, and life goals
Taking some time off before starting college can bring students clarity about what they want to do after high school. Time is money in college, and taking a break from school can help you save both while deciding what college, career, and life paths you are interested in pursuing.
Give back, learn, or try something new
There are many formal gap year programs that offer the opportunity to travel and work in unique places, with room and board covered in exchange for work. If you’re looking for new experiences, have a special career interest, or just want to travel while building your resume, check out our breakdown of the popular gap year program, AmeriCorps.
What are the cons of taking a gap year?
You might lose momentum
During your gap year, it's possible that you may lose the desire or momentum to attend college altogether. When considering taking a gap year, set a timeline and stick to it as much as you can. Setting an end date to the year will help you prepare for your next steps, like starting college.
Also, just because it’s called a gap year doesn’t mean you need to take a full year off! Instead, look at your options and align them with the timeline you have set. This might mean taking a quarter or semester off rather than a full year.
Note: If you do decide to take a gap year, be sure to stay in touch with someone at your college's admissions office throughout the year. They can keep you updated on what you will need to do in order to start school when you're ready.
You will lose the help of a school counselor
If you decide to take a gap year, your high school counselor won't be able to support you through the college application process (if you decide not to apply while you're a senior). This means that it will be completely up to you to keep track of college application requirements and deadlines, find scholarships and understand your financial aid options, and navigate any issues that may arise throughout this process.
How can I make my gap year effective?
Take classes at a community college
Committing to four years of college can be intimidating for some. If you still want to work toward a degree but aren’t ready to commit to a four-year university, deferring your start and earning credits at your local community college is a great way to do so! Community colleges are great places to receive an education at a more affordable cost.
Save money and build your resume by working during your gap year
Saving money by working for a year can help you build your resume, network, and professional skills that can be used in any job or career. If you need help finding entry-level jobs, check out our free job search tool and this list of employers hiring for jobs you can do at home!
Give back through service gap year programs
- AmeriCorps is a national service gap year program that involves “getting things done” in local communities. Volunteers earn an award toward their education, a living allowance, and an opportunity to build professional skills.
- CityYear places volunteers in schools working directly to support students. Similarly to AmeriCorps, you earn a living stipend, an award that helps pay for a higher education degree, and you’ll build education-related professional skills.
Travel to experience other countries and cultures
Here are two examples, but you can search “Gap Year Programs” online to discover even more:
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a program that connects farm owners with volunteers looking to live abroad and work in exchange for free room and board.
- Australia's Work and Holiday Visa Program offers a year-long travel and work visa to Australia for young adults (18-30) willing to work in high-need industries like conservation, construction, brush fire rehabilitation, and tourism/hospitality.
Before making a big decision, like taking a gap year, it’s important to talk with a parent or guardian. They can offer you advice and perspective, and together you can make a decision that works best for you.
Have any questions about taking a gap year? Text #Hello to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!