Gap Year Q&A
Gap Year Question and Answer
A gap year is an experiential semester or year, typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness. (http://www.americangap.org/) For those considering a gap year, Valor encourages them to intentionally create or identify a defined plan including objectives and timeline.
For generations, students have taken time off between high school and college to earn money for college tuitions. Students have also taken time off to support political campaigns, to earn vocational certificates or to pursue an athletic or artistic opportunity.
For nearly 40 years, Harvard has recommended this option, indeed proposing it in the letter of admission. In recent years, the presence of formalized gap year programs has expanded substantially in the US. Gap years gained prominence in 2016 when Malia Obama announced that she was going to take a gap year before enrolling in Harvard the following year.
There is no mechanism to track all students that participate in both informal and formal gap years. One association that surveys its members, which are a subset of the total Gap Year population, claims that 90 percent of students who took a Gap Year returned to college within a year. (wsj.com). This is a great question to pose to any gap year program that you are exploring.
The following chart by Nina Hoe, PhD, in collaboration with the Institute for Survey Research, Temple University, and the AGA Research Committee, details what their respondents (participants of AGA certified gap year programs) cited as their most significant influences when deciding to take a Gap Year. (Americangapyear.org)
Some of the self-reported Gap Year Impacts include: (americangapyear.org)
- Helped me develop as a person
- Allowed me time for personal reflection
- Increased my maturity
- Increased my self confidence
- Helped me learn to interact with people from backgrounds different than my own
- Helped me develop communication skills
- Helped me learn to interact with people from backgrounds different than my own
- Helped me acquire skills to be successful in my career
- Helped me find purpose in my life
- Will or has impacted my career decision
- Increased my readiness for college
According to the US Department of Education, 60% of US students graduate from a 4-year institution. They report that only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years at public universities and 36% of full-time students complete their degree in four years at selective, research based state flagship universities. In comparison, a survey of gap year students that participated in AGA gap year programs, a subset of all gap year students, reported that 90% of those gap year students graduated from a 4-year institution and did so in 4.07 years. Taking time off between high school and college can also support academic achievement. “In the United Kingdom and in the United States, students who had taken a Gap Year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college. (Crawford and Cribb 2012, Clagett 2013)”
For most students, gap experiences have an impact on their choice of academic major and career – either setting them on a different path than before a Gap Year or confirming their direction. 60% of gap year students surveyed said the experience either “set me on my current career path/academic major” or “confirmed my choice of career/academic major”). [Karl Haigler & Rae Nelson, The Gap Year Advantage, independent study of 300 Gap Year students between 1997 – 2006]
Per the Gap Year Association survey of their members:
- 77% of Gap Year Participants agreed or strongly agreed that their Gap Year “Helped me find purpose in my life.”
- 86% of Gap Year Participants were satisfied with their job after college
- 84% agreed or strongly agreed that their Gap Year “Helped me acquire skills to be successful in my career
There is a wide range of costs associated with organized gap year programs. Such program costs are typically correlated with the breadth and location of travel and can equal a year’s college tuition. Inversely, there are programs where participants can earn a modest amount of money. Of course, some individuals create their own gap year program and thus dictate financial commitments based on the components of their program.
A variety of scholarships can be found at American Gap Year Association’s website. In addition, many gap year programs offer financial aid and/or scholarships for their participants. Gap year expenses associated with some 501c organizations are deductible and 529 college funds can be applied to select gap year programs offered through an eligible post-secondary education institute. Lastly, there are a few programs, such as Americorps, that allow participants to earn money for college.
The direct guidance that is provided by the Gap Year Association is as follows:
- Apply to college
- Inquire with your admissions counselor about a Gap Year. This is a ‘hypothetical’ question to be asked, and will give you more information about the specific school without saying you’ll throw off their admissions numbers
- Get accepted (knock on wood) and pay the deposit to hold your space depending on the above answer. DO NOT compromise your integrity and deposit at two colleges or otherwise be dishonest – this will inevitably come back to haunt you.
- Ask for a “deferral.” More and more universities are adopting a formal policy around deferrals as they’re seeing more students ask for these. In some cases, deferrals are specifically to take a Gap Year – and we always encourage announcing those plans clearly and honestly – but in other cases, students are simply looking to take the time to work and earn a bit of money for college. For more information on deferrals, visit AGA’s list of university deferral policies for gap years.
Some colleges, such as Colorado College, have specifically developed calendars and onboarding programs for gap year participants. According to gap year consultant, Marion Taylor, most Colorado colleges allow gap year deferments while other programs such as The University of Washington and Northern Arizona University are less likely to provide deferments for gap year students.
Colleges are increasingly embracing the concept of gap years. In fact, universities such as Princeton, Wheaton and the University of North Carolina are offering their own gap year programs as well as providing financial support.
As Northwestern University points out, “studies have found that students who take a gap year are more motivated and better at planning and task management than their peers. ‘You want to have students who come into your institution ready to take advantage of all that you have to offer,’ says Lois Trautvetter, an associate professor and director of Northwestern’s master’s program in Higher Education Administration and Policy. ‘So, if it’s a matter of having some students take a gap year to ready themselves, I think any institution should be amenable to that.’”
According to the US News and World Report, “Sometimes students who were snubbed by an elite school will get accepted after doing something impressive during a gap year. For instance, a student who was rejected by MIT used a gap year to invent an environmentally friendly scooter that Popular Science praised. The second time he applied to MIT, he got in. Harvard offered this take on admission chances for gap-year applicants on its website: ‘Occasionally students are admitted to Harvard or other colleges in part because they accomplished something unusual during a year off. While no one should take a year off simply to gain admission to a college, time away almost never makes one a less desirable candidate or less well prepared for college.’”
Some of the concerns or questions that should be explored with gap year grads and programs include:
- Being one year behind high school friends in college
- Transferability of academic course work
- Re-immersion into college and/or domestic life after living in different cultures
- Risks and language barriers associated with global travel
- Living with others, either in residency programs or home stays
- The need to be flexible, patient and a problem solver as challenges or changes occur while traveling or working with others.
- Finding the right program that will advance personal objectives or interests
Valor Christian High School supports and encourages participation in Gap Year programs. It is our vision that Gap Years can prepare students to deliberately immerse themselves in their college experience to realize their passions more fully, advance their careers and contribute to their communities after graduation.
Valor encourages incoming high school graduates to consider joining an interconnected community of peers, mentors, and opportunities to Discover, Explore and Refine their vocational, community and spiritual interests through a Christian based residency Gap program before enrolling in college.
To learn more about how a gap year might fit into your plans, please visit your Valor College Counselor.