Taking a gap year after high school is a serious decision. Before you decide to postpone college and venture out into a year of discovery, you should take several things into consideration: is a gap year for you; have you done your research; is the cost prohibitive; is the college agreeable to you taking a gap year: and will your financial aid defer as well.
1. Ask yourself if a gap year is for you.
A gap year requires discipline and commitment. A gap year is used to explore your interests, find your passion, prepare for college and take advantage of experiences and opportunities that will cement your future career path and interests. A gap year is not meant to be a year of escape, postponement, or laziness.
2. Do your research.
Before you decide to take a gap year, you should do ample research. Talk to the colleges you are applying to and ask if they support gap year deferments. If a college is not agreeable to a gap year and it could be an option, consider finding another school that looks at gap years favorably.
You should also examine various gap year programs by researching them online, speaking to past participants, and evaluating the cost. There are numerous and varied gap year programs available for students wishing to travel abroad, work at internships, volunteer, or even participate in a program that is specifically geared to building life skills.
3. Weigh the cost.
The cost of a gap year program is definitely an expense. But remember, taking a gap year can also save parents money in the long run. Steve Goodman, an educational consultant and college admissions strategist, says, "If a gap year clarifies what a student is going to do college, it pays back in college because you're saving tuition money for the time a student may have spent clarifying their major."
And remember most programs offer financial aid and scholarships, too.
4. Talk to the colleges who have offered admission.
Students who have been accepted to a college, but want to take a gap year before attending, should defer their admittance, says Kristin White, director of Darien Academic Advisors and author of The Complete Guide to the Gap Year. Students wishing to defer college should send a letter to their college's director of admissions and outline what they plan to do during their gap year experience. The admissions committee will evaluate the letter, and in most cases, grant the deferral, she states. White advises students to send their deferral letters between April and mid-June. At the very latest, students should send their requests before the first fall tuition payments are due, which is usually July 1 or August 1.
The American Gap Association (AGA) has compiled a list of colleges that offer deferment to take a gap year. Keep in mind that this list continues to grow as the positive benefits of taking a gap year for students continues to be recognized by even the most distinguished universities in the United States and abroad.
5. Will financial aid still be offered if you defer?
If a student has qualified for federal financial aid but has deferred college for a year, he or she will have to re-apply the following year by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). If their family's financial circumstances haven't changed significantly, the student will likely receive aid again, says Holly Bull of the Center for Interim Programs.
Some scholarships offered by colleges can be held for the student until they attend the next year. "Scholarships vary by school, but if you've been offered it once, you have a good shot of being offered it again," Bull adds. Cheryl Brown, the director of undergraduate admissions at Binghamton University, reassures students and parents about scholarships from her school, saying, "If the student is accepted for any scholarship, depending on the parameters of the scholarship, we try to hold it for them when they return."
Author: Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students on college admissions process. Her blog, Parents Countdown to College Coach, helps students navigate the college maze. She regularly provides content for Manilla, Galtime magazine, Noodle Education,, and College Focus and is an expert contributor to Zinch, Student Advisor, TeenLife Media, and University Parent. Her articles have been published by HuffPost College and Yahoo Finance. Her expert advice is also chronicled in University Parent’s Guide for Freshman Parents, and Nancy Berk's book College Bound and Gagged.