Exploring The Gap Year: Is It The Right Choice For You?

Students often believe they need to enter college immediately after finishing high school. For many, this seems like the natural progression of an academic career; complete highs school, complete college, then either go to graduate school or find a career. However, there is an alternative: the gap year.

The gap year typically provides a gap in time between high school and college, though it may also occur in the middle of a bachelor’s program or between the completion of an undergraduate degree and starting a graduate program. The gap year provides students with the opportunity to pause, reflect, and explore the options available to them before entering the whirlwind of higher education.

For some students, a gap year can be especially beneficial as it provides the opportunities for them to learn about themselves, travel, work, spend time with family, or determine their academic goals before spending four years working toward a bachelor’s degree.

The ideal gap year will be an experience of self-development as opposed to simply taking a break from school. It’s essential to consider the pros and cons, as well as your own personal motivations, before making the decision to take a gap year.

Pros of taking a gap year:

Extra time to think about your major and your future. It can be difficult to pause and genuinely reflect on what you want to get out of college when you’re in high school and even more difficult when you jump into college immediately after. Taking extra time can give you the chance to explore your options, research different majors, and make the best choice for you.

Work experience. Many students use the gap year as a chance to complete an internship or do volunteer work within their desired career field. Working directly in your desired field can not only help you make connections that can follow you after you graduate, but it can also help you make sure that it’s what you really want to do.

Travel the world. Some students save money through high school and use the gap year as a chance to travel, both domestically and internationally. Traveling provides many opportunities for education and personal growth.

Reduce stress. High school can be an overwhelming time for many students. It’s always challenging to balance grades, extracurriculars, and home/life events, potentially in addition to part-time jobs. Sometimes students simply need a break to reduce their stress levels before getting back into school.

Self-development and hobbies. The gap year provides a unique period for students to explore interests they may not have had time for during high school. Students can often complete unique and interesting projects during the gap year that may help them stand out against traditional high school seniors to college admission teams.

If you’re considering taking a gap year in the middle of a program or before entering graduate school, this can also be a time in which you can get a head start on future studies, thesis projects, or related materials.

Cons of taking a gap year:

You’ll be “pausing” your studies for a year. The gap year may be especially difficult if your friends are immediately moving on to college, as you may not follow along the same trajectory as them. It’s important to recognize that you’ll be a year behind other students your age in terms of studies; this also means entering the job market a year late and determine if what you accomplish in your gap year will make up for the setback.

Financial and personal risks. Especially if you’re traveling and not working a full-time job during your gap year, this period may become expensive. This may also be difficult if you’re moving out of your parent’s/guardian’s house during your gap year.

It can be stressful. The gap year is not a structured program for you to follow; you have to make your own decisions and set your own deadlines for projects. There can be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the gap year, and just like entering college, it may be the first time you have to navigate unfamiliar situations without an adult to guide you.

Loss of momentum. For some students, taking time off school can make it difficult to regain the momentum and motivation for academic progression. Consider how summer breaks may have impacted your ability to succeed throughout high school; were you able to jump in immediately, or did it take you a while to re-settle into the pattern?

Success requires discipline. Like college, a lot of self-discipline is necessary to achieve your goals. Unlike college, the gap year is entirely based on your own personal goals and may not have any particular structure to follow; you’re less likely to have anybody to hold you accountable. Additionally, it can be challenging to determine what is genuinely a success or an accomplishment, as you may not receive any immediate feedback.

Ultimately, the choice to take a gap year is a personal decision. It all depends on what your priorities are and what you believe will help you succeed.

For more helpful college tips visit Iowa Wesleyan’s college blog.