Should You Take a Gap Year? Pros and Cons

Many students take a gap year to focus on traveling, working, and self-discovery. But is it worth it? Discover the pros and cons of taking a gap year.

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by Mikael Mulugeta

Updated August 25, 2022

Reviewed by Stephanie DeBord, MA

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Should You Take a Gap Year? Pros and Cons
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Taking a gap year after high school is becoming more and more popular, with many colleges now encouraging students to do so. Some proponents even argue that a gap year, or a year of service before starting college, should be mandatory for all students!

Despite the advantages of taking a gap year, many students don't fully understand the concept of a gap year. You may believe it involves traveling aimlessly and wasting time — but that's a common misconception.

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Ready to start your journey?

So what is a gap year exactly? And what are the pros and cons of taking a gap year?

What Is a Gap Year?

A gap year is when you take a year off, typically between high school graduation and college. So instead of beginning college the fall after you finish high school, you'd start the following fall.

Gap years are meant to give students a break from academics. It's usually a time to discover yourself and consider what kind of education and career you want to pursue.

A gap year can take many forms. For example, you could work a job, complete an internship, volunteer, or travel. You can do these activities independently or as part of a gap year program.

Why Do People Take Gap Years?

In one survey, the two most common reasons students gave for taking a gap year before college were to recover from academic burnout and to learn more about themselves.

A gap year not only gives you time to recharge and refocus but also allows you to learn more about yourself on your own terms.

Research on the benefits of a gap year has led schools like Harvard University, New York University, and MIT to encourage students to take one.

Many colleges even allow accepted applicants to defer their admission for a year so they can take a gap year.

Some colleges go one step further and offer university-sponsored gap year programs. For example, Princeton University gives incoming undergrads the option to enroll in a nine-month tuition-free service program.


Taking a Gap Year: Pros and Cons

Although many students can benefit from taking a gap year after high school, the path isn't for everyone. Here are some gap year pros and cons to consider before making a decision.

Pro: You'll Enter College Feeling Refreshed and Refocused

The clarity earned by taking a gap year before college can positively affect your academic performance. Research shows that those who take a gap year are more likely to graduate in four or fewer years compared to the national average of six years.

The time spent reflecting and learning about potential paths can also help you make a more informed decision when picking a major.

Con: You Might Waste Too Much Time

An unstructured gap year can open the door to wasting time and losing academic momentum. While gap year programs can provide structure and motivation, if you plan to explore on your own for part or all of your gap year, make sure to clearly lay out goals you can accomplish.

If necessary, inform trusted people of your plans so they can hold you accountable.

Worst-case scenario for a gap year? You stall your academic momentum to play video games, watch TV, and lounge around the house.

Pro: You'll Build Important Skills

You can use your gap year to develop any number of key life skills. This could mean learning a language while living in another country, honing communication and leadership skills while working on a service project, or gaining hands-on experience through a job or internship.

Con: Gap Years Can Get Pricey

College can be incredibly expensive, and a gap year may appeal to students who fear poorly spending their time in college until they've figured out a clear direction for themselves.

On the other hand, gap year programs and traveling abroad are also typically expensive endeavors. Make sure you understand the potential cost of your trip or program as well as any hidden expenses.

Pro: You Can Broaden Your Horizons

Traveling and living abroad for your gap year can be a transformative experience. Immersing yourself in a new culture, learning a language, and seeing the world from a different perspective can help you discover your passions and purpose.

Con: You May Feel Isolated or Like You're Falling Behind

Watching friends leave for college and go through similar experiences at the same time can increase FOMO. Likewise, knowing you'll be going through these experiences a year after your peers might make you feel as though you're falling behind.

While these feelings are understandable, remember that entering college one year late won't ultimately harm your professional trajectory. You'll get to experience college all the same when you eventually start school again.

Pro: It Can Attract Employers

A productive gap year is a great time to engage in resume-building activities. Learning a skill, gaining work experience in your field, studying a language, or spending months learning about a specific topic or country can all help your resume stand out.

A year spent volunteering or interning can also build skills that will impress potential employers.

Con: It May Be Harder to Transition Back to School

Spending your gap year idle or withdrawn from academic engagement could make your transition back to school tricky.

The best way to avoid this problem is to keep yourself engaged and challenged by material you find interesting. One aim during your gap year should be to acquire a skill or learn about yourself, an academic field, or other subject that interests you.

Should You Take a Gap Year?

A gap year isn't for everyone. Though popular, gap year programs and international travel can cost a pretty penny. It's worth considering how a gap year could affect your finances before you decide whether to take one.

Other factors to consider include what kinds of activities you plan to do during your gap year. It's best to start your gap year with a strong sense of what you want to explore and learn.

Ask yourself: What goals do you want to achieve before starting college? What can you only do now that you won't have time to do while in school?

Though it's OK to spend some time, especially at the beginning of your gap year, relaxing and taking a break from school, try not to spend your entire year feeling unfocused and aimless.

Ultimately, it's up to you to determine whether a gap year is the best course of action for you and your goals.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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