Should You Consider Taking a Gap Year?

If you’ve accepted a college’s offer of admission, you may find yourself in a dilemma. You don’t know if the campus will be open in the fall or if classes will be online. And you may be hesitant to pay a substantial sum for what may be only a facsimile of college life.

Paying for but not experiencing the life on campus that you had envisioned, one which includes labs, studios, rehearsal spaces, classrooms, dorms, dining halls, sports, and cultural events, not to mention parties, may have you re-considering your plans. You may now prefer to save money by remaining at home and attending a community college and then transferring to a four-year college. Or you may prefer to attend a nearby state college for all four years.

Another alternative is to attend the college whose offer you’ve accepted and which you prefer. But before starting, you may wish to wait until all contingencies caused by the pandemic are resolved and normal campus life has resumed. This choice is available if the college allows you to take a gap year for the 2020-21 academic year. Under the present conditions, many institutions have revised their policies so that you can be granted a gap year even after you’ve accepted their offer of admission.

Before a college approves your request for a gap year, they want to be sure that your plans for the year are worthy of the privilege. The most popular gap year activities have been packaged programs involving overseas travel. However, there’s a new wrinkle that didn’t exist a year ago. Traveling abroad this fall will be difficult and undesirable, so international programs have suspended operations for 2020.

The idea that you need to travel to a developing country, learn about its language, people, and culture, and have as your goal the improvement of people’s lives simply isn’t practical in 2020. But you don’t need to go abroad to accomplish the same goal. You have a historic opportunity to broaden the concept of what a gap year can be.

By revealing severe inequities in our society, the pandemic has made manifestly evident what should already have been clear to all — that there’s plenty of help needed in our own country. An online search will enable you to review the new gap year programs designed specifically for 2020. These programs allow you to assist those people most in need in your home area as a result of the pandemic.

The Benefits of a Gap Year

A gap year is more than merely a way to cope with the present moment. In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the benefits to students and colleges. This accounts for the growth in the percentage of American students requesting permission to take a gap year and the willingness of colleges to grant them.

Conceptually, the purpose of a freshman gap year is to allow a student who has been driven to excel throughout high school to get admitted to “best-fit” colleges an opportunity to relax and reassess while engaging in a purposeful pursuit.

Harvard’s rationale for their gap year program is as follows:

“Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way — provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college.” 

Most colleges prefer a structured, pre-approved approach to gap year activities. The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill offers incoming students the opportunity to participate in their Global Gap Year Fellowship, as described below. 

“The Global Gap Year Fellowship offered at UNC-Chapel Hill is the only college-sponsored gap year program that allows students to design their own gap-year experience. Fellows are encouraged to create their service-based gap years with the full support and guidance of our staff and faculty.”

In addition to college-sponsored gap year programs, there is a growing mini-industry of gap year program providers. Many of these organizations, such as Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School, are members of the American Gap Association, a professional group that sets standards and accredits participants.

Gap Year Pros and Cons:

Like all important decisions, you should consider the pros and cons of taking a gap year between high school and college. Below are those associated with a normal academic year that doesn’t have the added pressures of 2020.

Pros:

  1. After the intensive grind of college admissions… you’re fried! You’ll benefit from being in a non-competitive environment for a while to assure that you’ll be at your best when you begin college. You’ll return from your gap year with your vitality restored and your focus sharpened,
  1. Research (see Middlebury College website) indicates that students who have taken a gap year perform better in college than those who have not,
  1. A gap year allows you to learn by living in an unfamiliar culture and region,
  1. There’s no better way to become fluent in another language than to immerse yourself with native speakers,
  1. A gap year enables you to develop traits like leadership and self-reliance,
  1. A gap year enables you to grow in maturity, independence, and self-confidence,
  1. Participating in a gap year displays the qualities that post-college employers will be looking for in professional hires, and,
  1. During your gap year, you’ll be part of a community of peers with aspirations and goals like yours. You’ll form lifelong friendships.

Cons:

  1. A major reason why most students choose not to take a gap year is that they don’t want to fall out of step with their cohort. Their friends will be going away to college in August and they want to be sharing that experience,
  1. Certain financial aid programs require students to attend college without a break in order to remain eligible for funding each year, and,
  1. Packaged gap year programs can be expensive. If your family is stretching its budget to pay for college, the added cost of a gap year program may be excessive. However, certain low cost options such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps are likely to be approved by your college.

We recommend that you discuss your desire for a gap year with Louis Educational Consulting. As is the case with all other aspects of your campaign for admission, we have the expertise assist you in planning for your gap year even during the challenging conditions of 2020.

 

 

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