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The University of St. Thomas (UST) is Houston’s Catholic University, committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition and the dialogue between faith and reason. Our blog is dedicated to helping you explore your future career possibilities and how to make the most of your college experience.
Should I Take a Gap Year?
6 Questions to Ask Before Delaying College
The time leading up to college can quickly go from exciting to overwhelming. While you’re likely eager to gain more independence and start focusing on your favorite subjects, you may be feeling a bit intimidated by all the choices you have to make. You need to think about how to finance your education, how many schools to apply to and more.
Rather than trying to figure out everything at once, it’s best to begin with the most pressing decisions. For most students, there’s one question that needs to be addressed before any others: “Should I take a gap year?”
Some students find that taking a break before college can be beneficial. But there are also plenty of learners who recognize they’re better off continuing their education without delay. To determine which option is right for you, start asking yourself some serious questions.
“Should I take a gap year?” 6 Things to ask yourself before deciding
Choosing to take some time off before starting college should involve careful consideration. In addition to thinking through your own needs, you’ll likely want to have some discussions with your family to determine what makes the most sense for you. Start by answering the following questions:
1. What will I do with my time during a gap year?
Any student who’s considering taking a gap year should think about why they want to delay college. One survey shows that students’ primary reasons for taking a gap year are to gain experience, grow as a person, travel and see other cultures. In many cases, these motivations inform the activities students ultimately participate in during their gap year. That can include conducting research, participating in a service trip, completing an internship and so on.
The same survey indicates that a lot of students also want to take a gap year so they can take a break from academic life. But if the goal is to give your brain a bit of respite before college, bear in mind that summer break often provides plenty of time for students to recharge.
And if you’re thinking of taking a gap year because you’re unsure of your future? Remember that most colleges have career services departments that are dedicated to helping students identify and pursue their passions. You don’t have to be certain of your future career goals before starting your higher education journey.
2. Have I planned for a gap year?
It’s never a good idea to put off college without preparing for it. While most schools will allow accepted students to defer enrollment for a year, it’s almost always a requirement to submit a formal request that must be approved. It’s unlikely that a college will accept a request to defer without some thoughtful rationale. That’s not to say you can’t take a break without this approval. But you will have to go through the college application process all over again.
From a practical standpoint, you should also know that most internships and formal gap year programs are incredibly competitive. Many of the available positions fill up early in the year. If you don’t decide that you want to take a gap year until later on, you may find yourself out of luck.
3. Will I be motivated to start school after taking time off?
It’s difficult to say exactly how many students begin college after taking a gap year. While some evidence suggests that 90 percent of learners enroll after their one-year break, that figure only accounts for students who participated in structured programs that were easy to track. Even so, this means at least 10 percent of students don’t continue their education after taking a gap year.
Depending on how learners spend their time taking a break from academic life, they can find it difficult to reignite their drive to obtain a degree. Some would-be college students get used to working and earning a regular paycheck. Others find themselves itching to travel more. If you’re worried that you may lose motivation during a year away from the classroom, taking a gap year may not be the best choice.
4. Can I manage a potentially difficult transition back to being a student?
Regardless of how a student spends their time during a gap year, they’ll likely go through some sort of transition once they return to the classroom. And that adjustment period can be difficult. Research shows that students who delay enrollment are 18 percent less likely to obtain a credential compared to their peers who didn’t take a break.
This probably sounds at-odds with glowing statistics you’ve heard about the benefits of taking a break before college. While there are certainly surveys showing that gap year students end up outperforming their peers during college, such polls can be misleading. Many learners who take time off are already excellent students with diligent study habits.
One Australian study suggests that students with higher grades are more likely to take a gap year than their lower-performing peers. Combined with the knowledge that researchers have found good grades in high school are one of the greatest predictors of postsecondary academic success, this suggests achievement is more dependent on students’ abilities than their pre-college endeavors.
It’s also worth pointing out that a lot of students experience academic struggles at some point. Although these learners have plenty of opportunity to excel during college, taking a full year away from formal classroom learning could be detrimental. It can be overwhelming to complete rigorous assignments and work on improving your study habits while simultaneously adjusting back into a student mindset.
5. Is a gap year financially feasible?
Students often forget to think about the financial implications of deferring college. One report that shows generally positive outcomes associated with taking a year off before starting college points out something critical. Nearly 20 percent of gap-year students estimated their parents’ income to exceed $200,000, and most of those same students reported their folks helped them pay for their gap year. That’s not feasible for a lot of families.
It’s possible to offset some costs by participating in a program that provides a stipend or similar form of compensation. Just know that those payments are unlikely to cover all your expenses.
You should also know that taking a gap year can, in some cases, affect your ability to claim scholarships. It’s possible you could receive a smaller award or have it rescinded entirely. There are also loan implications for students who end up working during their gap year. That income could increase your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which can reduce the amount of aid you’re qualified to receive.
6. Am I willing to delay graduating and securing a full-time job?
Considering how long you’ve been a student, a year probably seems like an insignificant amount of time. But think about what a 12-month break means for your professional life. Taking a gap year ultimately delays your ability to secure post-graduate employment and begin developing in your career. It’s worth asking yourself whether you’re willing to potentially sacrifice a full year’s earnings and work experience.
By continuing your education without delay, on the other hand, you could start paying off student loans and saving money for retirement that much sooner. You’ll also begin making connections and gaining experience that can help you advance your career.
Choose the college path that’s right for you
“Should I take a gap year?” It’s a more complicated question than it might seem. You’ll need to spend some time thinking through your options before you decide how to proceed. Your future could look very different depending on which path you select.
Again, choosing how to time your education is just one of numerous decisions you’ll need to make as you prepare for college. It’s also important to start thinking about whether you’d prefer to attend a major university or a liberal arts school. To learn more about the latter option and how it could help you achieve your goals, visit our article, “Appreciating the True Value of a Liberal Arts Education[CS1] .”
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The University of St. Thomas (UST) is Houston’s Catholic University, committed to the religious, ethical and intellectual traditions of Catholic higher education. For more than 70 years, we’ve been graduating students like you into successful careers in medicine, education, business, public administration and more – throughout Houston and across the globe.