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Taking off a year between high school and college, also known as a “gap” year, is becoming increasingly popular, but how can you be sure that taking a gap year is a good idea for you?
There are two main reasons that you might want to take a gap year. First, you can use the time to gain work or other kinds of experience. Sometimes, working for a year can help students earn money to pay for college. Other times, students can use the time to explore research or other academic interests in order to create a more concrete plan for college. Second, you can use a gap year to take a break from studying, which is especially helpful when students are feeling lethargic from an intense high school experience. Students who simply want a break often spend this time traveling, volunteering, or pursuing a non-academic passion.
So, how do you actually take a gap year? First, we always recommend that students interested in a gap year ask to defer their acceptance at college. Having a plan for post-gap year is often crucial to help students structure their time and prevent stagnation. In some cases, schools have developed their own gap year programs with dedicated funding. Some examples are UNC’s Global Gap Year Fellowship, Princeton’s Bridge Year, and Tufts’s 1+4 Program. These programs are often focused on service learning abroad, which can be especially fulfilling for participants who want to expand their personal horizons. Other schools have specific policies around deferring for a year, so make sure you talk to admissions. In some cases, you have to reapply entirely, since the school won’t hold your spot for you. In other cases, you might simply need to reapply for merit scholarships and/or financial aid. In any case, it’s best to understand exactly what each school requires for students who take gap years.
Once you have a handle on your college plans after the gap year, it’s time to decide what you want to do. Having a reasonable set of goals will add value to your experience and help you grow as a person. Here are a few suggestions for what you can do for a year:
Regardless of what you choose, make sure to have fun and take a few (calculated!) risks! Taking a gap year is a wonderful time to open up your life. You can try getting experience in a brand new field, or develop a skill you’ve never had a chance to work on. Challenge yourself to take on a leadership role. Meet new people from many walks of life. And finally, learn about yourself.
Spark provides customized guidance to help you get into your top-choice schools.