Gap year programs: Where do you stand?

A play on the iconic

“Gap years” are nothing new, but it was still pretty surprising when the most watched college decider in the nation – Malia Obama – elected to defer her entrance to Harvard University.

My immediate reaction as the mother of a high school freshman was…pretty impressed. It's never an easy decision to go against the grain of expectations and most 17- or 18-year-old's reaction to a Harvard acceptance letter would be so long folks, hello Cambridge.

But if you have the chance to combine a year of travel or work with a temporary break from the high school pressure machine of the last four years, why not? I bet most of my fellow Gen X'ers would crumble under the workload expected of today's American high school student. (Stream the movie “Dazed and Confused” to remind yourself of what high school expectations used to be.)

All this made me want to dig a little deeper into the concept of a gap year and what it means today. Here's what I found out:

Gap Year: The Pros and Cons

Pros: Getting to know yourself better. Seeing the world outside your town and your family. Gaining a fresh perspective on life. Greater maturity. All excellent reasons to take a gap year. A gap year may also give students and their families extra time to work and save for college, the cost of which most experts say will continue to rise 6% each year. This, while personal income increased just 0.4 percent in March, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Cons: Deciding if you should defer an acceptance to Harvard is about an elite decision as you can get. What about kids who want to take the gap year with no acceptance in hand, or one from a college that hasn't been so vocal in its support for the concept like Harvard? What if the allure of college dims during the year? And to be certain, poorer students face unique challenges when considering this post-high school sabbatical. Many colleges will expect a fee to hold your place or warn that certain grants such as Educational Opportunity Fund awards are “specific to each academic year and may not be deferred” as one university detailed. That could be a deal-breaker for many. Lastly, the more organized, overseas travel-based gap year programs can be expensive, upwards of $30,000.

It seems from an economic perspective, the cons may win out if money is an issue. But part of our mission at Get Rich Slowly is to focus on living and spending in a balanced way. Shouldn't this bias us in favor of spending for experiences vs. career-tracking our kids as quickly as possible? If working hard to fund a year of budget travel would make you a more focused college student, isn't that the ultimate smart money move?

For more perspective, I turned to our always spot-on Facebook community to see what they thought.

I asked: Would you support your child taking a year off before college?

I support it and even recommended it to my daughter leading up to her high school graduation with the contingency that she get accepted in college and would formally defer admission for one year. We looked at study abroad and volunteer vacations. Both are expensive. So she decided to go the traditional route.
— Lynette H.

It depends on the individual. For me it would have been a bad idea. My son who is about to enter college could probably do it…and go back to college a year after – he is more motivated than I was. However it is that motivation that is driving him to not only get into college as soon as possible but to also obtain college credit for many of his HS classes ( and therefore graduate college sooner)
— Greg T.

It's idealistic and typically not a good use of time for anyone who has to pay for their own college. It's not accepted in the US and you would have to justify the gap on your resume to a future employer, especially because you'd be working a menial retail job. Getting an entry level full time job is very difficult and you don't want to make that harder.
— Kaylen R.

Yup! Wish I would have done it. Especially if you are already accepted into college and can defer for a year. Perfect time to travel or live abroad. Too many Americans know too little, if anything about other countries and cultures. We would all be better off if everyone stepped out of their comfort zone once in a while.
— Aishah H.

I took a gap year between college and grad school. No regrets!! — Vernetta L.

Who Takes a Gap Year?

The gap year concept is more popular and accepted in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe, but by all accounts, is a growing trend in the U.S. The American Gap Association, an organization that promotes and tracks gap years, has data that shows the majority of gap year takers are strong students: 62% reported an “A” average in high school. More than 80% would recommend it to another student.

Maybe these are the best and brightest?

Let us know what you think below or on Facebook.

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lmoot
lmoot
4 years ago

I’ve never heard of a gap year traveling program $30k! Yikes, that sounds unnecessary. I support Gap years. For some it’s better if you’ve already been accepted to post education and have a definite start date….seems that would take care of the motivation issue if you get the college searches/interviews and applications out of the way already. I think the type of person who has the foresight to defer for a year and take a gap year, most likely will not be filling their days working retail (at least not exclusively retail). I could see joining a volunteer or work… Read more »

Greg
Greg
4 years ago

The “Gap year” should be occupied by civil service which will provide valuable life lessons to the young adults. I strongly believe all 18 year olds should complete time in the Military, Red Cross, Peace Corp or similar organizations. Spending time and any of these organizations will expand the young adults view of the world past their social media cocoon, and allow them to survive on their own without assistance from parents.

getagrip
getagrip
4 years ago

The real question is “who pays”? My kids had this strange idea that a gap year meant I paid for them to travel to other countries and/or states while they found themselves and decided what to do with their lives. I burst that bubble pretty quickly. My kids were given a simple choice upon high school graduation: go to some higher level of learning or training (e.g. college, trade school, etc.), get a job and pay rent, join the military, or move out and mooch off someone else. Seems reasonable to me. A gap year could easily fit with the… Read more »

Cathy @MonetizeMyMins
Cathy @MonetizeMyMins
4 years ago

I think that the idea behind a gap year is wonderful. If I had the opportunity, I would have taken one at the time. Maybe it would have saved me from changing my major a resounding 5 times before I managed to finish my Bachelors. That being said, I think a gap year should be used in a way that promotes personal growth and discovery. Maybe spending time with the Peace Corp, teaching English abroad, working with Habitat for Humanity or some other charitable organization would be wise. If not that, then maybe finding places to volunteer in your current… Read more »

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
4 years ago

I thought college was about learning about yourself and the wider world. A gap year sounds great in theory, but it could easily turn into a giant boondoggle. My son went to Italy his junior year in high school. A whole year to travel? Just like some of the dorm rooms (nicer than his room at home), a year off would set unrealistic expectations for the future. How many parents still have their adult kids on their cell phone plans? Being an adult is at least as much about being responsible for yourself as it is about doing what you… Read more »

Jamie
Jamie
3 years ago

My youngest graduated high school early (a year and 1/2 early to be exact) in December. His ‘grademates’ from church and scouting were headed into Junior Prom territory as he wrapped up his high school career. We homeschooled so that made this decision a little easier to manage (he only had to convince mom and dad not an entire school system designed to keep him on the same path as everyone else). He then spent a Gap Semester going to Basic Training and Airborne school for the National Guard (on his 17th birthday his dad and I had to sign… Read more »

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