Is this a Good Time to Take a Gap Year?

Is this a Good Time to Take a Gap Year?

A gap year is a year that students take between high school and university (or during university) to do a variety of structured and unstructured, academic and non-academic activities. Because of COVID-19 and the uncertainty about how universities will deliver programs this fall, more students than usual are considering a gap year. However, the pandemic also affects gap-year options, so it’s not clear that delaying your studies is the best choice. There’s no guarantee that the pandemic will be contained by the fall of 2021, or even that other unknown circumstances won’t delay you from starting your university experience.

There are many reasons why you may choose to take a gap year. Here are a few common ones:

  1. You feel academically burnt out and need a break from traditional academics to recharge your batteries.
  2. You have a strong interest that you want to pursue prior to university.
  3. You have no idea about what you want to study and aren’t sure a university degree is the best path for you.
  4. You want to gain more life experience and maturity so that you can make the most of university.
  5. You want to travel and experience other cultures.
  6. You didn’t receive an offer from a university you’re excited to attend, so you want another shot at the university admissions process.
  7. You’re not sure if you’ll succeed at or enjoy doing classes online if your school decides not to offer an in-person campus experience because of COVID-19.

Is a gap year right for you? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Gap Year: Pros

  • Opportunity for personal growth by giving yourself time to do volunteer work and to explore your interests, areas of study, and possible careers.
  • Time to learn new life skills such as cooking, coding, first aid, or another language.
  • Return to academic work with more energy, maturity, self-knowledge, and confidence. According to a study of GPA results by Robert Clagett, the former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, gap-year students tend to academically outperform their peers by 0.1 to 0.4 on a 4.0 scale, with the positive effects lasting over the entire four years.

Gap Year: Cons

  • Embarking on a year off without a plan. Successful gap years are planned in advance and have a mixture of structured and less structured activities. Treating the year as vacation time is not particularly valuable.
  • Potential loss of scholarships or financial aid. Although many universities allow students to defer admission for a year, not all forms of financial aid are deferrable. It’s important to know how this will affect you before making a decision.
  • Lack of options because of COVID-19. Most common gap-year programs and activities are just as susceptible to cancellation or changes in delivery method as university programs. Unless you’re sure you’ll be able to follow through with your gap year plan, it may be better to get a year of education under your belt.

Your parents may worry that you’ll be too old for university if you take a year off or that you may not return to school at all. However, university courses are much less homogeneous than high school courses and it’s common to have a range of ages in each class, so age shouldn’t be an issue. And most students are more than ready to return to school after a year off, particularly if their gap year includes work experience. According to the American Gap Association, 90% of students who take a gap year end up going back to school.

Under normal circumstances, the pros for taking a well-planned gap year outweigh the cons. With COVID-19 restrictions, it’s much less clear. If you were looking forward to living on or near campus and being an active part of your university community, it’s understandable that you may feel that ‘online’ university is unappealing. Nevertheless, it may be better to keep moving forward with your education than to take a year off with fewer gap-year opportunities than usual. For some of you, a ‘happy medium’ may be possible. If your school allows you to attend part-time, you could consider taking two or three classes per term, while using your extra time to work, volunteer, or learn a new skill.