By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP
Reading widely in our field as we do, we at The Coaching Educator have encountered evidence that an increasing number of high school students who have been accepted to college are choosing to take a gap year, a deliberate and purposeful (theoretically) break from study before beginning their higher education. We do not recall any of our own student/clients taking a gap year except for personal or family emergencies, but with the gap year being a growing trend, we can think of a few reasons why it might make sense for some people. That’s might. And some.
If you have graduated from high school without ever repeating a grade or being double-promoted, and you attended kindergarten, you have been in school for thirteen years. It would be understandable if you felt a bit stale by this time. Some students take a gap year to get away from formal study and restore their energies for a while before plunging into the (in most cases) more rigorous college curriculum. Provided you continue to make some demands on yourself as a reader, and you continue occasionally composing something more profound than a text, a gap year could leave you in better condition to begin college than if you enrolled only two or three months after finishing high school.
A related benefit would be the opportunity to experience the calendar year and the seasons without reference to the academic calendar. For the first time in what seems like ages, the crispness of the fall air and the turning of the leaves don’t have to be associated with homework, wind sprints, or Hayley Flinkendorfer making fun of your mole. On the other hand, if you work a job like a regular person during your gap year, you won’t get two weeks off at Christmas and a week off in the fall and spring. This can be an enlightening experience for some.
Useful work experience
One approach is to take some sort of job that relates to what you hope to major in and/or what you want to do with your life eventually. This can give you an advantage later in the academic study of that field. Another approach is to broaden yourself by doing something completely outside your experience and long-term intentions. Either way, as long as you do something that isn’t utterly disreputable, your resume will benefit.
You might even find out that you hate the field of endeavor in which you had hoped to spend your career. Better to find out now, before committing yourself to the study of it.
A gap year spent working can help you lay up some earthly treasure that will enable you to start college on a more solid financial footing. Considering how much college costs, including all the things that tend not to be obvious until you get there and are in the soup, this is no small matter. (See An Arm and a Leg and Your First-born Child: Why College Costs So Much and Beyond Tuition, Fees, and Books: The Other Costs of College.) But be careful here: Any change in your income can affect your financial aid status. Calculate carefully before going after the loot.
For those who can afford it, travel provides the opportunity to broaden their horizons in a general way. It can also be of specific benefit where other languages and cultures are concerned. For example, if you want to study art history but have spent little or no time in Europe, a gap year could give you some first-hand acquaintance with the works you’ll be studying and the languages associated with them. If you want to study international business, go to a country that interests you and find out first-hand how they treat people and money.
Many of the benefits of a gap year come under the heading of growing up a little bit before college. A gap year can allow you (or force you) to become more independent—which brings responsibilities as well as privileges—by taking you outside the regulatory structures peculiar to academic life. It can expose you to various types of people you ordinarily would not encounter (good judgment is needed here) and help you toward self-understanding by giving you the chance to see how you handle new situations. If you make good decisions, a year older should mean a year wiser—and if it doesn’t, you’ll have the chance to figure out why and fix what’s wrong.
The gap year: Make sure there really is a reason.
The Coaching Educator does not take a position on what you should do, except to say that it’s essential to apply for college and get accepted before making gap-year plans. A gap year should be a year for growth, not a year of uncertainty or rudderlessness. Any student considering a gap year must formulate definite goals and develop a plan for achieving them.
Remember: A gap year should be a year with purpose that fits your larger plan for proceeding with college and your chosen career.
When considering a gap year, make absolutely certain you clear it with whatever college you plan to attend and with any entities that have offered you financial assistance. Once you’ve gotten far enough to contemplate a gap year, make sure you don’t undo anything that got you there.
And of course you’ll need to figure out how it might make you feel to see the people you knew in high school starting college—and probably finishing—before you do.
The Coaching Educator emphasizes being strategic and making wise decisions. That’s a big part of why we’re here. To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links in “Credits, References, and Recommendations” below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.
Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.
Credits, References, and Recommended Reading About College Admissions
Photo by Suad Kamardeen
Culp, Paul. “An Arm and a Leg and Your First-born Child: Why College Costs So Much,” The Coaching Educator, 6 September 2018, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/09/06/an-arm-and-a-leg-and-your-first-born-child-why-college-costs-so-much/
Culp, Paul. “Beyond Tuition, Fees, and Books: The Other Costs of College,” The Coaching Educator, 7 June 2018, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/06/07/beyond-tuition-fees-and-books-the-other-costs-of-college/
Culp, Paul. “Free College Wouldn’t Really Be Free. Is it Coming Anyway?” The Coaching Educator, 27 March 2019, https://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/03/27/free-college-wouldnt-be-free-is-it-coming-anyway/
Culp, Paul. “Remedial Nation: The Ghastly State of College Preparedness,” The Coaching Educator, 19 January 2019, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/01/19/remedial-nation-the-ghastly-state-of-college-preparedness/
Culp, Paul. “Ten Commandments (And Then Some) for College Success,” The Coaching Educator, 19 October 2018, https://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/10/19/ten-commandments-and-then-some-for-college-success/