Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year

So you want to take a gap year?  Great!  Gap years offer you a unique opportunity to devote intentional time to becoming an authentic and whole human being.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, though:  here are some of the pros and cons of taking a gap year.


Recharge After High School:
After spending nearly 18 years in school, taking time to regroup and rediscover what matters to you can be profoundly powerful.  Further, after spending some time away from academia, many gap students find a renewed vigor for school and classes.

Experience Something New:
There is only so much variety possible in high school, but the world is fantastically large and diverse.  Whether through inner or outer exploration, gap students use their time to gain perspective on themselves and on the world around them.  Later in life, trying to experience something new can be costly (mid-life crisis, anyone?).  Taking a gap year means you don’t have to interrupt your flow to explore or adventure in the world.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
— Lao Tzu

Arrive at College with More:
More what, you ask?  Experience, money, skills... you name it, you can find it on a gap year.  We’ve covered gaining experience above, but you can also save up money during gap.  Gain valuable work experience through internships or apprenticeships, add some depth to your resume early, and then put your new skills to use in college.

Fill in the Gaps:
With any luck, high school gave you a complete and compelling intellectual education and filled your head with useful knowledge.  But what about the rest of you?  Are you at home and comfortable in your body?  Is your heart strong, and can you roll with the emotional waves that wash over everyone at some point in their lives?  Likely as not, there are big gaps in your whole-self education.  It’s great to have a head full of useful knowledge, but knowing what to do with that is even better.


Your Difference Sets You Apart:
If you’re uncomfortable doing something unique and different, taking a gap year may stress you out more than enrich you.  And when you tell people what you’re doing, some people won’t get it.  Also, you may be on your own for part (or all, if it’s not well-planned—see below) of your gap year.

Poor Planning = Wasted Opportunity:
Extra planning is required to make a gap year really worthwhile.  There’s no cookie-cutter gap experience, so you are responsible for making it great.  If that’s not your strong suit, it’s easy to get disorganized and waste time.  You do not want to spend a year sitting on your parents’ couch!  Gap advisors like the Center for Interim Programs, Taylor the Gap, or En Route Consulting can help get your plans in order.

Hard on Your Wallet:
Traveling can be expensive, and most organized gap programs have their own tuition.  Parents sometimes say: “I’ve saved for four years, not for five.”  (Note: it’s possible that a gap year can save you money, too, if you arrive at college committed and focused and don’t spend a year of college tuition figuring out whether you want to be at school!)  Here’s a tricky little one: if you’ve applied for financial aid and then want to take a gap year, you may have to apply for your FAFSA again.

Generic Hikers

Momentum and Inertia:
They’re not just for physics.  You may be graduating with significant academic momentum that you’ve worked hard to gather.  Some people are concerned that if they step off the treadmill they will lose that momentum and instead the inertia of free time will drag them away from their goals.  While statistics show that this concern is unfounded, it comes up a lot.

Want to learn more about the pros and cons of gap years?

 Find a friend or friend-of-a-friend who’s taken one, and ask them about it.  Also consider contacting a gap organization and ask them to put you in touch with one of their alums.  Gap alums are a warm, thoughtful, and honest bunch—it’s part of why they took gap years, and part of what they got out of them!