A Gap Year: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Are you considering taking a year off from school? If so, you are not alone. Gap years, as they have come to be known, are becoming increasingly popular, as well as highly debated. Supporters say it can provide students clarity and give them an edge when returning to school. Opponents say it can be unproductive and actually make it harder for students to return to the classroom. Regardless which side of the debate you are on, one thing both sides agree on is a gap year needs to be well thought out and thoroughly planned with set goals.  

What is a Gap Year?

Simply put, a gap year is a break from education. It can be taken at any time, but most often occurs after graduating high school and before starting college. Gap years are not always a year. They can span in length from a few weeks to a year.

Why Take a Gap Year?

Students take a gap year for a number of reasons. Some are just academically burnt out and need a break. Some are unsure of which direction or career path they want to pursue. Others want to travel, study abroad, volunteer and do things they may not necessarily have time for later in life. Still others take a year off to work and save up money in order to afford college.

The Cons of a Gap Year

Gap year opponents fear once students leave the educational setting and get a taste of the ‘real world’, they may never want to go back to the stress, structure and rigor of academic life. They say students who work, may start to enjoy making money as opposed to spending it on tuition. Often those students lose sight of the fact that further education is an investment that actually increases their earning power.

Opponents say without a clear cut plan, students who take gap years often end up wasting that time and falling further behind their peers, which can lead to frustration and stress for both the student and their family.

Even with a clear cut and properly executed plan, opponents say a gap year can be expensive, adding to student debt and sometime making college harder to afford.

The Pros of a Gap Year

Supporters say a gap year can be a great way for students to recharge their battery, mature, find clarity in their life and gain valuable experience, in essence giving them an edge over other students.

Supporters say volunteering abroad or in a field of interest provides students valuable experience that will give them the edge in the job market. They say equally as important, it helps clarify whether that is the path they want to pursue at all. That clarity, they say, provides a big benefit regardless of the decision, either saving them money in what could have been wasted tuition or fueling their motivation and excitement to return to school and pursue a given career.

Resources and Things to Consider

The one thing both sides agree on when it comes to a gap year is the need for a reasonable, clear-cut and properly executed plan. Experts suggest working with family members to determine what is best for you and earn their support.

If you decide a gap year is for you, make sure your plan supports your long-term goals, is well laid out and affordable. Just because you are taking a year off from classes, do not forget about college and your long-term plans. Make sure you are submitting applications and financial aid forms so you are prepared to return.

Gap years have become so popular there are now programs and websites like planetgapyear.com solely devoted to helping plan and find gap year opportunities. Utilize these sites, when making your decision and creating a plan. Some others site that may be helpful include www.interimprograms.com/, www.timeoutassociates.com, www. Americorps.gov and www.cityyear.org.

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Michelle Knoll

Michelle Knoll is a freelance writer based out of the Twin Cities with more than 15 years experience writing for local media outlets and other various organizations. She can be reached at Michelle@KnollCommunications.com

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