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    Taking a Gap Year: Everything You Need to Know

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    and Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: February 7th, 2024
    Taking a Gap Year: Everything You Need to Know

    Are you considering taking a gap year before starting college? If so, you’re not alone–lots of students take gap years each year. If you’re interested as to what a gap year could do for you, read on to learn all you need to know. We’ll explain the forms a gap year can take, and all its benefits and drawbacks.

    Also read: Free summer programs for high school students

    Jump ahead to:

    What is a gap year?

    Despite its name, a gap year is a length of time that can be anywhere between one semester and one year. It refers to the opportunity for students to take time off school between high school and college. There are a host of ways in which a student can spend this time. It may take the form of working a job, learning a language, traveling, or working on an independent project. Some gap years may take place through structured gap year programs. Others may be self-directed. Students can design their gap year to be as structured or unstructured as they’d like.

    What can you spend your gap year doing?

    Students can work with their parents to decide to do just about anything during their gap year. When it comes down to it, the time is really yours to seize. But we’ve assembled a list of popular activities for students taking a gap year to inspire you. Remember, this is not an all-encompassing list, but it should help you get the ideas flowing!

    How can a gap year benefit me?

    A gap year can be highly beneficial for students for a variety of reasons. Below we’ve listed out a few, more than one may even apply to you!

    • If you are feeling high school burnout, a gap year might be the perfect opportunity to refresh yourself before college
    • If you are a self-directed learner or looking to try alternative academic approaches, it could be just the ticket to experiencing new learning environments
    • If your family needs your help for the year, or if you need to save up more money, consider a gap year
    • If you are feeling as though you need time off for your mental health, a gap year can fill that need as well
    • A gap year can also benefit students who are craving experiential learning, by going out into the world, you’ll be learning things that cannot be taught in class

    What are the drawbacks to a gap year?

    Although gap years can be a great fit for many students, it’s important to also consider their potential drawbacks. The freedom of a gap year comes with a lot of possibility, but also a lot of responsibility. Let’s get into some of the potential drawbacks of a gap year, and what you can do to mitigate them.

    Falling out of step with your classmates

    If you were hoping to attend college with your high school friends, this may throw you off. For the duration of your gap year, you’ll be doing something different than your friends. You may feel insecure, or that you’re missing out. 

    If you are the type of person who needs to be submerged in community, you should seriously consider this drawback. However, don’t forget that it may come with its own benefits. You may meet new friends during your gap year. And if you attend a school that your friends are attending after your gap year, you’ll be in a unique position. Your friends will already have a year under their belt, and they’ll be able to show you the ropes.

    The potential to waste time

    If you decide to self-structure your gap year, you will be in a unique position. You’ll have the potential to have an extremely fulfilling year of self-directed learning. This could be working on one project, studying a language, or any other directive. However, if you have problems with self-directed learning, this may lead to wasted time. 

    Before deciding to take a self-directed gap year, you should reflect on your ability to self-teach. Have you had success in the past in teaching yourself? If not, you may want to consider a gap year with more structure.


    Depending on how you spend your gap year, it could be a financial drain to you or your parents. College is already a huge expense, and enrolling in an expensive gap year program may seem financially overwhelming. If this is the case for you, remember that there are inexpensive gap year options. In most cases, you can WWOOF for free. You can also get a job to support your endeavors. Just remember, expensive gap year programs are not your only option.

    Falling out of your academic rhythm

    Taking a year off school can be a great idea to help refresh your mind. However, some students may find it difficult to get back into the flow after taking such a long time off. Remember, the transition to college is always a bit jarring. Taking a year off has the potential to make it easier and open your mind to new experiences. But it also may also make the return to traditional academics difficult. 

    Other resources for incoming college students

    If you are a high school senior, we’re sure you’ve got a lot on your plate. Luckily, we have compiled resources to help smooth the transition to college. Once your gap year is coming to a close, we can help you make your first year a success. If you’re looking to make money in college or to pay for housing, we can help. You may also be wondering how you can get involved on campus, and how to save money in school. Finally, as you prepare for your first semester, you’ll have to decide whether to buy or rent textbooks. If you have other questions as you continue your transition, make sure to check back at our site!

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • A gap year is when students take time off from school between high school graduation and attending college
    • Students may take gap year for any number of reasons
    • During a gap year students may work, travel, or participate in structured gap year programs
    • While gap years can be beneficial, it’s a good idea to explore both the pros and the cons they have to offer

    Frequently asked questions about gap years

    Can a gap year impact financial aid?

    Depending on your financial aid situation, a gap year might impact your award amount. Let’s break it down by type of financial aid. Typically, merit-based aid from your college will remain unaffected. Regardless, it’s important to contact your financial aid office to ensure you know the potential changes.

    Need based aid from your college will change based on your financial situation. You’ll have to resubmit your FAFSA and/or CSS Profile for the year you plan to attend college. If your financial situation becomes better or worse in that year, it will impact your aid. Remember, if you spend your gap year working, you’ll have to report that income.

    Money from private scholarships varies on a case-by-case basis. Some scholarships will be flexible and allow you to use the money for the year that you start school. But others may not be. Some private scholarships need to use annual disbursements for tax purposes. In this case, they will most likely choose a new winner. Make sure to check with any private scholarships you won to see how a gap year would affect your award.

    Can I retain my spot at a college if I take a gap year?

    Yes, you can! This is called deferring your admission, and you’ll do it between April and mid-June. After you are accepted by a college, you’ll have to first accept your offer. The next step is to send in a letter outlining your plans for your gap year and request a deferral. The college will have the option to accept or deny this letter, but in the vast majority of cases, they will accept it. Just make sure your letter is detailed and well-worded. 

    If your decision to take a gap year came about in the later stages, all is not lost. Many colleges accept deferral letters all the way into early August. It can’t hurt to try, so if you want to take a gap year, contact your school.

    Should I still apply to college now if I want to take a gap year?

    High school seniors who already know that they want to take a gap year should still apply to college. You’ll have a better chance of being accepted as a current high school student. Additionally, it will be a relief to have a college plan locked down before your gap year. Being a gap year student with a college acceptance is a great position to be in. You have a set amount of time to pursue what you want, but also have a plan for the future. 

    How can I take a gap year on a budget?

    There are many options out there for students to take a gap year on a budget. Some gap year opportunities may be paid jobs, such as au pairing. You could also enroll in free programs such as WWOOFing. Many gap year programs also have scholarships available. So don’t be deterred by the high price tag on some gap year programs. There are options out there for everyone!

    How do I tell my college I want to take a gap year?

    To tell your college that you’d like to take a gap year, send a letter to the director of admissions. Request a deferred admission, and outline your plan for the gap year in specific terms. You should send this letter as soon as you are sure that you’d like to take the gap year.

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