"I’m Taking a Year Off"

The majority of students enrolled at four-year universities seldom graduate in that amount of time. The reasons are endless – credits forfeited from dropped classes have finally added up or there aren’t enough hours in a semester to meet the requirements for two majors – but the result is that graduation dates are not set in stone. The rationale behind students electing to take time off from school, a “gap year” as it’s often called, varies just as much, but very few have the intention of not returning to school after their leave. In fact, the experience they will gain while away from college can supplement what they’ve learned in school (ex., teaching English in a foreign country) and provide them with a better understanding of the possible career paths out there for their particular major (ex., working on the digital side of a daily newspaper).

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If your child expresses an interest in temporarily leaving school, don’t automatically think this is the end of their educational journey – it could be just the beginning, so hear them out completely before answering. Take as long as you need to formulate what you want to say and ask thoughtful questions to ensure your child has truly done their research. You could learn that while your child left for school as a mathematics major, a survey course in political science got them seriously thinking about a career in public policy and they’ve found an internship in Washington that could provide even greater insight and real world experience. Sometimes the students that seem the most set on a path are the ones who branch out, so don’t be surprised if your daughter who always wanted to be an engineer ends up finding her true calling in archaeology. You may not agree with their decision to join the Fulbright Program but if they display a genuine passion for this new direction, try to be as supportive as possible.

Once your child has detailed their plan, explain what’s important to you (for example, if you’re the one paying for their education and want them to return to school by a certain date, tell them that’s a deal breaker for you) and be willing make small compromises to make both of you happy (you may want them back in school for spring semester but if their program runs from the middle of winter break through March, they should agree to be enrolled full-time again for the start of fall classes). It’s also a good idea to check with the university about your child earning credits during their time away from campus; it’s not always possible but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

As soon as their plan is laid out, contact the school about their deferment policy. Unlike deferred admission, where schools explain to cusp candidates that they’ll be placed on waiting lists until all applicants are reviewed, deferring enrollment usually involves your child submitting the reason they are leaving school in writing to the dean of admissions. Depending on the institution, this process could also involve a fee, additional paperwork or a face-to-face meeting, so don’t follow protocol based on assumptions. The moment deferment is granted and you receive written confirmation of such, only then can you and your child begin finalizing fellowships, buying plane tickets, finding housing and making other preparations for the upcoming trip; doing so any sooner could result in hefty cancellation fees if their deferment is partially or completely denied.

As their departure date grows closer, you may begin to worry if your child will indeed hold up their end of the bargain. That’s completely normal, as some students never return to school after a gap year, but a higher percentage of students who take time off actually return to campus with a renewed interest in school and a leg up on their classmates.

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Last Reviewed: November 2021