Make the Most of a Gap Year

Feb 23rd, 2016 | College Preparation, High school

A “Gap Year” is something many graduating seniors consider. Rather than going to college immediately, students take a year to intern, work, volunteer, travel, or perhaps complete a project. Though the practice has always been common in Europe, it’s recently started gaining popularity among American students as well.

Many schools value students who take a gap year and understand the potential impact it can have on a student’s maturity level and ability to more fully partake in their educational opportunities.  There’s no right answer as to whether or not you should or shouldn’t take a gap year; every student will need to decide this for him or herself. However, if you do choose this option, there are a number of things you can do to make the most of your time.

1.) Apply for College Senior Year

If you are planning to attend college, but just want or need a year off from the rigors of structured education, you should still apply to most colleges while you’re still in high school. High schools generally have programs designed to facilitate your college application process, and it will be much easier for you to gather letters of recommendation, send transcripts, and complete standardized tests while you’re still in attendance. Especially if you plan on going abroad during your gap year, it can be very difficult to gather and send your documentation from a foreign country, and you don’t want to curtail your trip in order to come home and apply. Some schools will allow you to defer your admission for a year, and some–like Princeton, University of North Carolina, Harvard, or Tufts–even offer incentives or special programs for students interested in taking gap years.

2.) Strengthen Your Applications

Furthermore, if you don’t get into the school or program of your choice, a gap year is a great opportunity to strengthen your application and re-apply. Volunteering or working at an internship  – possibly even one that’s related to your intended major – will give you real-world experience many other applicants lack.  If you were a competitive candidate who was nonetheless wait-listed or not admitted, this additional experience could tip the scales in your favor. You’ll also have an opportunity to earn new or superior letters of recommendation from your mentors during your gap year, and it’s possible that their words may carry more weight than your high school teachers because their insights may be more interesting, original, and applicable to your real-world skills.

3.) Be Smart with Your Money

Bear in mind that your gap year isn’t an all-expenses-paid vacation. While many gap year opportunities can be very costly–especially those involving travel—it’s wise to make sure they do not put you or your family in debt. For many students, this may mean spending some time working. Holding down a job for all or part of your gap year will not only be a great opportunity to save money and develop an understanding of adult finances, but it will reflect well with colleges who want grounded and responsible applicants. Check out the International Volunteer HQ, WWOOF-USA, or City Year for some affordable opportunities that will also provide incredible learning experiences.

4.) Make the Most of This Opportunity

Treat your gap year as an investment in your education and future. It can be an extremely valuable experience not only for learning more about yourself as an independent adult, and developing a little more maturity and perspective on life, but also possibly creating or eliminating paths of study. Explore your curiosities and passions in practical ways. The worst thing you can do is spend a year on your parent’s couch–get out there and learn about yourself, your interests, and the world!

Finally, if you’re a parent concerned that your student might lose direction by taking a break from academia, know that research has shown that 90 percent of students who take gap years return to college within a year. The most important thing is that students make the most of their gap year! If you want to learn more, contact us at Sandweiss Test Prep! We would love to talk to you about this or about anything else related to your student’s academic and personal success.