Common in many countries including Australia and the UK, taking a year between high school graduation and beginning college – also known as a “gap year” – hasn’t been popular in the US until Malia Obama’s choice to do the same hit the news.
Now, more and more students are at least exploring the option as they make college or career plans. To that end, many are choosing to utilize the gap year to volunteer, study abroad, or narrow their interests before the rigors of secondary education begin.
Pros of Taking a Gap Year After Graduation
A gap year could potentially benefit you, depending on what you choose to do with your time. Consider these pros of taking a gap year before college:
- You can build work experience. Many college students find it difficult to find employment during these crucial years. Building work experience now can help you sustain employment after you begin school and add years to your resume.
- You can save money. Working during a gap year also allows you the opportunity to save up for the years ahead. If you’re savvy enough to limit your expenses during this time, you may be able to build a substantial savings before classes begin.
- You can narrow your focus. College students often begin school with only a broad idea of their eventual career path. Taking a gap year can help you narrow your professional interests to a few ideal candidates and even eliminate credit hours – and money – spent on pursuits you later discover aren’t for you.
- You can develop skills. Students often use gap years to volunteer for charitable organizations or attend career exploration and skill-building programs. As an added benefit, many programs are good for college credit and look great on a resume.
Cons of Taking a Gap Year
While a gap year provides many positives, there are some potential negatives of taking a year off between high school and college as well. Potential cons include:
- Graduation delays. Beginning college a year later has one obvious drawback: You’ll delay graduation by at least a year. Gap years are becoming more and more popular, but you’ll still find yourself on campus in a group of incoming freshmen who are mostly a year younger than you.
- Unexpected expenses. Building volunteer and work experience sounds great, until you discover the true cost of taking on an unpaid internship or volunteer position. Some experiences abroad can cost thousands, while free internships require you to provide hours without compensation; meanwhile, living expenses can add up.
- Full-time attendance rates drop. Students who choose to take a gap year to work most often work 30 or more hours per week, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Once school begins, many of these students find it difficult to attend school full time and maintain these work hours.
Is taking a gap year the right choice for you?
Take some time to think about your goals for your potential gap year, and how the above pros and cons may affect how you achieve them. Gap years aren’t for everyone, but they can provide you with a wealth of experiences college simply can’t offer.
Reflect on your plans, assess your resources, and take the route that benefits you professionally, academically, and financially.