Taking A Gap Year: How To Delay College and Not Fall Behind

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Is Taking a Gap Year Right For You?

Rapid advancements in technology continue to make far-flung distances feel shorter and shorter. Today, it’s easier than ever to work in real time with people on the opposite side of the globe, visit two continents in one day, experience another culture in virtual reality, and keep your education on track with online high schools. With all these opportunities for expansion, high-school students are showing heightened interest in taking a gap year—that is, hitting pause between high school graduation and college.

Gap years aren’t for everyone. Some of us enjoy the sequential nature of continuing our education seamlessly. Still, others may feel like they’re losing their educational momentum if they retreat, even if only for a few months, from the on-campus environment. And that’s OK. What works for some doesn’t always work for others.

But the way we see it, a great gap year is one that’s put to purposeful use (not an opportunity to set the record for most Netflix bingeing in 365 days). With that in mind, we’ve put together a handy list of pros that can help you decide if taking a gap year is right for both your personal development and your college career.

Pro #1: Find your career path by engaging in purposeful work.

We strongly recommend you put a gap year (or two) to meaningful use by engaging in programs, trips and activities that draw on your passions. For many students, picking a major can be grueling. By engaging in a year of purpose-driven work that ignites your passions and puts a career context around what you love, not only do you find clarity about how you want to contribute to the world, but you also gain experience doing that very thing.

Robert Clagett put it best in his New York Times article: “What often happens is that students end up ‘reinventing’ themselves during their gap year, discovering where their true interests and talents lie, and helping them bring a more mature outlook to their education in the future.” The So You Want to Change the World podcast offers exclusive interviews with recent high-school graduates who engaged in gap-year experiences to help the world in meaningful ways. Listen to a few episodes to get a sense of how your peers made the most of their off-campus time.

Pro #2: Stay on track through concurrent enrollment.

A gap year doesn’t have to delay your college degree. Concurrent enrollment is a fantastic option for high-school students who want the best of both worlds: a gap year without any setbacks in their graduation timeline. The beauty of concurrent enrollment is that you are actually enrolled in university courses and receive both high school and college credit when you complete each course. And unlike typical dual enrollment with a community college, concurrent enrollment with a top-ranked university allows you to transfer those credits to the best universities in the world.

Pair online high school with concurrent enrollment, and you get a powerful career driver that enables you to complete one to two years of your college degree before you’ve even graduated from high school. That means you can take a full year or two off to pursue hands-on experiences without skipping a beat in your college education. Woah.

Pro #3: Expand your mind through meaningful exploration.

Not only can gap-year experiences catalyze career clarity, but they can also help to develop parts of your brain in fresh ways. Seeing new cultures, learning new hands-on skills, practicing a new art form—all of these cause our minds to expand in singular ways that can’t be recreated in a classroom environment. The result? You begin to see, think about, and engage with the world in a new way, and both you and your community are better for it.

“Many students divide their year into several segments of work, travel, or study. Not all can afford to travel or to take part in exotic activities. A number have served in the military or other national or international service programs,” according to Harvard University, which has urged students to take time off for years, and in fact encourages newly admitted students to do so in its official letter of admission.

Pro #4: Strengthen your chances of getting into your top-choice college.

The bottom line: a fruitful gap year looks good to top universities. Admissions committees understand that someone who has seen, explored, and experienced the world on their own makes for a well-rounded and mature student. Thinking Beyond Borders explains, “A gap year can help you get into a college of choice if: 1) you were already a good fit for that college, and 2) you can demonstrate that your gap year is about learning and growth that will make you a great contributor to that campus.” More specifically, “If your gap year is about gaining perspective and expertise in a subject you’ll study passionately in college, your application will definitely stand out.”

After all, if Malia Obama did it, there must be something to it.