13 Big Gap Year Pros and Cons

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A gap year occurs when a student decides to take a break between high school and college or university courses. It may be referred to as a sabbatical in some cultures, designed to help students develop an extra level of maturity by pursuing activities or actions that are important to them before beginning their college career.

Although it is referred to as a gap year, a full year does not need to be taken by students who are looking to explore the world or who they are as a person. Some gap years may be as short as three months, while other students may take the full year.

About 90% of students who decide to take a gap year will return to complete their college coursework, according to data released by the Gap Year Association. Here are the important pros and cons of a gap year to consider.

List of the Pros of a Gap Year

1. It is a way to recharge your batteries.
After graduating from high school, it is important to reflect on that accomplishment. You just went from 1st grade to 12th grade successfully, earning a diploma along the way that can get you into some employment opportunities. You probably went to kindergarten too, and perhaps even a preschool. You’ve just spent a long time in school. Sometimes, a person needs to step away from that structure to recharge. Added stress can interfere with creativity and learning, which a gap year helps to take away.

2. It offers valuable individualized experiences.
A gap year can be designed to provide a wide array of experiences that students find interesting on an individualized level. You can volunteer your time abroad to help others. You can gain experiences that can be used to secure a good job in the future. It can be used for travel, to gain personal clarity, or to explore different job options that are interesting. That process can help students find the journey they wish to travel through life, helping to create higher levels of happiness.

3. It allows you to learn personal responsibility.
As a student in high school, you may have been given the option to make many of your own choices. At the end of the day, however, your parents or guardians were a safety net for you. If you made a mistake, they would be there to help you recover from that. When you’re an adult, that luxury typically goes away. You’re asked to take on many more responsibilities. A gap year can help you learn how to handle the various stresses you’ll encounter, from finding a job to managing a budget.

4. It may improve your college/university application.
If you’re thinking about pursuing a specific degree, a gap year can give you the experiences you may need to supplement your eventual college or university application. Personal experiences often shine through on an application essay, which can help you be able to impress the people responsible for choosing who attends their institution. At the very least, a gap year exploring your interests will help you understand more of what is being taught in your future classes.

5. It can help you earn some extra cash.
Let’s face it. College is expensive these days. Even if you’re attending an in-state public institution, the cost of tuition could be around $5,000 per semester. That’s a lot of debt to handle when you eventually earn a degree and get into a job that you’re passionate about. If you can take a job during your gap year and save what you earn, even if it is only part-time work, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of student debt being carried in the future.

6. It may offer access to grants or scholarships.
Some gap year programs offer students access to scholarships, grants, or low-interest loans to pursue the experiences they want. Volunteer programs may provide a lot of personal experiences, but they are seldom free. Some may cost several thousand dollars, require a passport, and have other financial obligations that must be met before traveling. It is important to research all financial possibilities throughout the entire scope of your gap year to ensure it can be the positive experience you want.

List of the Cons of a Gap Year

1. It tempts some students to leave their education instead of pursuing it.
Even though up to 90% of students will return to their educational pursuits after taking a gap year, there is an important 10% that does not. Some students decide that educational studies are too stressful, too rigorous, or too structured to fit their needs. Instead of pursuing a high-skill vocation, they decide to work in entry-level positions – if they decide to even work at all. It can be easy to lose sight of the investment of an education when enjoying a gap year.

2. It can be expensive to take a gap year.
If a gap year involves travel and exploration, then the cost of the experience may be just as high, if not higher, than the cost of the tuition they would have paid as a student. Some students may accumulate enough debt during their gap year that it could make college more difficult to afford.

3. It will put you a year behind others.
Not everyone is going to be taking a gap year. If you decide to return to college after taking some time off, you’ll be at least 1 semester behind everyone else. You could even be a full year behind your classmates who decided to keep going with their education. That may put you at a disadvantage in some vocational pursuits. It will also create a source of division with your friends that didn’t take a gap year because your experiences will be different. Life can be very different when returning to school after taking some time off, which is why some students don’t come back.

4. It will cause you to lose some momentum.
There is a lot of value in having good studying habits. You’ll be breaking those habits when you take a gap year, which means you’ll need to re-establish them if/when you decide to come back to school. Although the stress reduction and personal enjoyment that comes with a gap year can recharge your batteries and be a refreshing back, returning to the learning routine can be very difficult. It may feel impossible to regain the momentum you had as a student in high school.

5. It requires a plan to be a successful experience.
Some students take a gap year and create amazing experiences for themselves. Others take their gap year and find themselves spending extra time on their couches at home. Taking a gap year isn’t intended to be a spontaneous decision. It requires clear planning, plenty of research, and communication with your parents, your preferred college or university, and others to ensure it is a positive experience. If you find it a struggle to plan a gap year, it may be better to stay in school.

6. It can be lonely.
If you decide to take a gap year, then there’s a good chance that your decision will put you out on your own, by yourself, completely isolated from everyone you know. Part of the process of growing up is dealing with loneliness that comes from isolation. You’ll have a chance to meet new people and make new friends. That process takes time and can be challenging to do in certain cultures. Having a plan to cope with loneliness before you start your gap year can help to resolve many of these issues.

7. It may be challenging to get financial aid.
Some students who decide to take a gap year may find it difficult to obtain the financial aid they need for college or university classes. Not every institution gives students the option to defer their enrollment for a year. Even if you can, you may find that the financial aid package is different. At the very least, U.S. students would be required to submit another FAFSA, which means not every scholarship, loan, or grant may be available.

These gap year pros and cons look at the various benefits and setbacks that are possible. None of them are guaranteed. Some people thrive during their gap year, then return to school ready to pursue their chosen career. Others discover that they don’t miss school and feel like they will not need it in the future.

Maybe you’ll discover who you are during a gap year. Maybe you will not. If you create a plan before starting it, you will give yourself the best chance to have a successful, refreshing experience.