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Should I Take a Gap Year?

So you’re a high school senior who has worked hard to maintain the impressive grades and variety of extracurriculars that earned you multiple college offers. Maybe you’re ready to start purchasing those extra-long twin sheets and choosing your fall classes. But maybe you’re tired after being in school nearly your whole life. If so, you might want to consider how a gap year could positively impact your future.

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Gap years, also known as “bridge years,” are much more common in the U.S. now than they were when your parents went school. Students may take a gap year to travel, get practical work experience, engage in volunteer or missionary work, or enroll in a gap year program that can take them all over the world and offer them once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Taking a gap year affords students the ability to experience new things and get out of their comfort zone – like the routine they’ve grown accustom to during their K-12 education. Students who take a year off from formal education before entering college find “a focused sense of purpose, independence, self-confidence, grit and resilience,” says Abby Falik, who founded Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit that supports gap year choices. While on a gap year program, students may discover a passion they never knew they had, or be introduced to a field of study that they fall in love with. If you feel lost, and unsure if you’re going down the right path, you might find that taking a gap year will give you time to explore and reflect on your goals and aspirations.

So how do you get started? The first step is attending a gap year fair in your area. These fairs can show the different options available to you instead of going directly to college. You can also research gap year programs online or talk to your school counselor. They may be able to point you in the direction of students from your high school who have also taken gap year. And just as independent organizations and institutions offer scholarships, students can find grants and financial aid for gap year studies.

Taking a gap year isn’t all fun and games, though, and getting back into the swing of school could be the hardest change to make. Not only will taking the SAT or ACT after high school be hard, but it’s also harder to get letters of recommendation from teachers and school counselors even a year or two after high school graduation.

If you’re unsure about taking a gap year or going on to college, the best way to cover your bases is to do the “normal” duties as a high school senior. Visit colleges, ask teachers for recommendations, write college essays, apply to schools, take the necessary standardized tests and get accepted to college. Most schools will allow you to defer your enrollment for one year (even if you’re accepted early decision) so if you do want to take a gap year, you’ll have a plan to follow when you return.

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Last Reviewed: September 2021