You’re about to graduate from high school and are wondering about the next steps for your career pathway. Taking a year off to explore the world and gain work experience is tempting, but is it the right choice?
There are advantages and disadvantages to a gap year, but only you can make a decision that is right for you. Gap year programs are available that structure experiences rooted in volunteerism and global project based learning. You may also prefer to jump right in and start your college degree. A gap year after college has pros and cons, so seek counsel from a trusted advisor, before you solidify your plans.
See and Experience the World
Pro: Some students use a gap year to travel and experience a new country. If you have access to financial resources, the opportunity to be embedded in a new culture may help you define new personal and career goals. Non profits like Gap Year Association offer language immersion and study abroad programs. Similarly, working as an Au Pair is another way to defray some of the costs of living abroad. InterExchange connects au pair candidates with host families in other countries.
Con: If your funds are limited, traveling may not be a viable option. Gap year programs offered by commercial organizations can be very expensive and are not tied to academic credit. You may experience homesickness, if you choose to work abroad. Consider trying a gap year program with a friend to minimize the uncertainty of working abroad. You may be able to pursue grants to pay for a gap year program.
Gain Practical Experience
Pro: A 2017 TD Ameritrade study indicated that 35 percent of high school graduates consider a gap year. Twenty percent of those students are concerned about college expenses. A gap year can afford you the opportunity to work full-time and begin saving money for college. You can avoid some of the student loan debt, if you invest your time away from school into a full-time job. Use the opportunity to build practical skills that will add to your college application portfolio.
Con: A gap year disadvantages statistic indicates a college degree has a significant impact on what you can earn in a year. In 2016, the Association of Public Land Grant Universities reports that college graduates earned $18,000 more per year than their counterparts with a high school diploma. It may be difficult to be motivated to go back to school, once you are away from it and have worked full-time.
Engage in Self-Reflection
Pro: If you aren’t sure what you want to study, a gap year provides the opportunity to learn more about academic and career options. Use this time to shadow other professionals and consider career tracks that are an ideal match with your interests and skills. The experience of an internship or gap year program will help you learn more about your life direction.
Con: The risk of taking a gap year is that you won’t have access to resources that will help figure out your next step. In college, you can take advantage of a career center, counseling services and trained academic advisers that can guide you in your exploration. General education classes are also a great way to find new academic and career interests. Consider taking unusual courses online or at a community college to explore potential areas of interest. These course options are more affordable and provide flexibility, if you want to work full-time.
Consider the Financial Impact
Pro: Some students jump into college, right after high school, because they don’t know what else to do. Taking a gap year will help you avoid wasting money or taking out student loans, if you aren’t sure that college is the right choice. You can use the time to apply for grants and scholarships, before taking the college plunge.
Con: If you don’t go to college, chances are that you’ll be working a minimum wage job. If you need to pay for living expenses, you won’t have much left to save for college. Earning a two-year degree at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school is a cost-effective option for a college degree.
Think About Academic Readiness
Pro: If you feel unmotivated at school and “burned out” is a common phrase that you use to describe your academic experience, a gap year may be an ideal choice. You’re more likely to be successful in college, if you’re excited to go to classes and learn new content. A gap year can be rejuvenating and help you gain perspective about the importance of higher education.
Con: Attending college right after high school maintains your mindset as a student. Your study skills are sharp and classes are fresh in your mind. When you go back to college, you may feel like a fish out of water. Feeling disconnected as a non-traditional student is among the risks of taking a gap year.
- A Gap Year: Weighing the Pros and Cons
- Harvard College: Considering a Gap Year
- Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities: How Does a College Degree Improve Graduates' Employment and Earnings Potential
- gap year association: gap year programs
- InterExchange: Au Pair
- TD Ameritrade: Half of College-Bound Teens Considering a Gap Year
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.