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Should You Take a Year Off Before Going to College? Pros and Cons

Oct 22, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Most students go straight from high school to college. But some are tempted to take a “gap year”—delaying their studies by a year to pursue an interest or take a break. But can taking a year off between high school and college hurt your chances of going back to school? Here’s a look at the pros and cons. 


Earn money for college

Some students are committed to graduating with little or no student debt, and taking a year off first could help you achieve that goal. If you play it right, you could build up your savings account toward tuition payments—and lower your debt load when you ultimately do go to college. You can do this by heading straight to work after your high school graduation, living at home, and
saving a lot of money.


If you work hard, you could earn several thousand dollars to put toward your college degree.

Strengthen your college application

Student Wonder
If you leave high school with a low GPA and test scores, you may decide to take a year off to improve your chances before applying to schools. Taking a gap year isn’t a surefire strategy—and in fact it’s rare to get a “yes” from a college that previously said “no.” But Admissions officers, like anyone else, love a good story—and they’ll jump at the chance to help an applicant who has been making demonstrated steps to turn his or her life around.

If you made mistakes in high school, do something extraordinary during your year off—such as volunteer for a worthy cause, start a business, or conduct an independent research project in a subject you’re passionate about. Make sure what you do fits in with the story you plan to tell admissions personnel—and with what you’d like to major in when you do go to college.

Give yourself a break

Some students simply need a break between senior year of high school and Freshman year of college. If you feel yourself getting burned out, it isn’t necessarily the end of the world to take a break—if you’re committed to going to college afterward. If you give yourself a break, you may be more focused and capable of earning better grades when you do return. 



It can be difficult to start back up once you stop

This is the big reason why parents and academic advisors worry about students who decide to take a break. Many students who take a year off fully intend to go back to school—but never quite manage it. The reasons usually involve taking on adult responsibilities early on—whether that’s a full-time job you feel committed to or a new family. If you do take a year off, it’s important to stay focused during that year—and avoid responsibilities that might keep you out of school.

It could damage your later application

While it’s true that what you do during your gap year could lead to a stronger college application, it’s also true that a gap year can distance you from your academics. Distance yourself too much—and avoid anything career- or academic-related during your break—and you could make your chances of getting into college lower. If you want to use your gap year to improve your college application, it’s key to choose your activities very carefully so that admissions personnel will see that time away as worthwhile.

Taking a year off between high school and college can be beneficial to some students. But it’s not a surefire solution for everyone. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to do something during your break to make your time spent away appealing to admissions officers when you get back. Choose plans that really excite you and that fit in with your goals, and keep your focus—adult responsibilities are much more likely to derail your college plans than a single year off. If you follow this advice and work to make your gap year relevant to your application, your gap year is much less likely to be an ordinary break—and more likely to be a useful and productive hiatus that could lead to admission in a great college.


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