Alan Wu

Would a gap year help or hurt you?

Testing the waters of the gap year

Jun 10, 2023

Take a much needed break

In a world where academic and professional success is often equated with a continuous, linear path of academic growth, taking a gap year before going to college might seem counterintuitive. However, our fast-paced world creates stress that taking a gap year can help ease. Gap years offer a chance to explore new horizons and return with a renewed sense of purpose. 

No matter what students choose to do with them, gap years offer a myriad of benefits. Individuals can explore beyond the confines of a traditional educational setting. It allows young people to step out of their comfort zones and embark on adventures such as volunteering, interning or traveling. These experiences foster independence, resilience and adaptability. They also help individuals figure out their career paths or the fields they wish to pursue. The firsthand exposure offered by such opportunities helps them understand the realities of different professions so that they can align their aspirations with their passions. 

According to the Milkround Graduate Recruitment Gap Year Survey, a remarkable 88% of gap year graduates said that their gap year significantly enhanced their employability, as many employers value the “soft skills” that reflect communication style, work ethic and work style acquired through opportunities and programs taken during a gap year. 

By venturing outside their comfort zones and remaining productive during a year away from structured academics, individuals demonstrate their motivation, dedication and ability to initiate and pursue meaningful endeavors. Furthermore, a gap year offers a valuable opportunity to gather experiences that can elevate college applications. The experiences an applicant gathers during the gap year and their ability to draw meaningful connections from them can impress admissions committees. Volunteering, interning or learning new skills enriches an applicant’s profile while also contributing to their personal growth. 

However, self-development isn’t the only benefit of gap years. Gap years also serve as potential solutions to the concerning state of mental health in America’s students. According to the American Psychological Association, one-third of college students in the U.S. struggle to function due to depression and nearly half experience an overwhelming sense of anxiety. By taking time away from the academic pressures and responsibilities, a gap year provides a much-needed break for self-reflection and rejuvenation; reducing the risk of burnout.

Ultimately, the value of a gap year depends on how you choose to use it. A gap year isn’t taking a year off, it’s a year on. It’s a year of doing, moving, thinking, planning and taking advantage of the moment. Don’t think of a gap year as an alternative to starting college; it’s an experience that can prepare you for college. You build a sense of self-awareness and independence — valuable skills for anything you choose to do in life.

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Too much of an inconvenience

Though it may seem like a good idea right now — especially with many seniors experiencing full onset senioritis — taking a gap year is harmful and can have long-lasting consequences. Individuals who do take a gap year are in danger of losing valuable skills learned in high school and falling behind peers. Moreover, one year or more away from school can land a student in deep debt and create complications returning to school. 

One of the biggest problems with gap years is cost. How one spends their gap years often comes with a high price tag, which leaves students of a lower socioeconomic background unable to participate. Though not all gap years involve joining a program, students who do enroll need to pay regardless of what the program’s purpose is. Unless their parents are very generous and have thousands of dollars to spare, the funds for these endeavors will have to come from a loan or the student’s own pocket. 

According to the Affordable Colleges Organization, gap year programs spent abroad cost between $5,000 and $12,000, not including living expenses. 

Additionally, some public universities — like UW and the UCs — don’t allow students to defer enrollment. The college resource site O’s List compiled a list of public universities that don’t allow deferred enrollment. In a nationwide survey of 94 schools, 50 didn’t allow deferred enrollment and 44 did. Furthermore, if a student’s deferral isn’t approved, and they do take a gap year anyway, they will have to concede their admission, resulting in them having to go through the headache of reapplying for school again before going back. 

On top of this, students who applied for financial aid with FAFSA will have to reapply when their gap year is over. Financial aid isn’t transferable to the year after. Federal Student Aid states that the original amount of aid granted can change based on how much money was made during that gap year. If someone chooses to work full-time during their gap year and increase their income, their Expected Family Contribution will increase as well, which lowers their financial aid offer. 

Overall, taking a gap year is a hassle. Students who take the year off risk spending more money than they can afford. After a year of living by your own schedule, students get out of the groove of working in a structured environment, causing them to fall behind their peers and lose motivation to continue school. The higher education system just isn’t built to accommodate each student’s gap year. Being untethered from school for a year is far more challenging than joining college, which already connects students to an array of diverse opportunities.

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