Taking a year off before university aka a “gap year” is becoming a more common thing to do in many countries. Even at Ivy league schools like MIT, deferral rates have doubled. What students do over gap years is variable: some travel, work, or pursue other passions such as sports or acting. It provides opportunities for students to mature, learn life skills, earn money, and much more. Gap years can also be detrimental for some students by delaying graduation amongst other reasons. I took a gap year, which I believe has benefited me greatly, but they are not for everyone. Gap years also don’t necessarily need to be the exact year before university. Most universities give you 6-8 years to finish your undergraduate degree and taking a year off in the middle of a degree is often feasible. I will go over some of the pros and cons of gap years and you can decide if it is something that could benefit you.
A 2015 survey from the American Gap Association reported that 98% of students who take gap years helped them develop as a person. Life skills like maintaining a work-life balance, individuality, and cultural skills from travelling are just a few skills that can come from gap years. Learning to live by yourself also prepares you for living in residence or on your own during freshman year.
University is becoming even more expensive and students are graduating with more student debt than ever. Taking a year off to work full time can put a massive dent in the student debt you will incur, especially if you are living at home with limited expenses. A student working a full-time $14/hour job would make over $25,000 dollars in a year they could put towards their tuition. Considering most people will also have to make interest payments on their student debt, the money made over a gap year can help you immensely.
Pro: Figuring out what you want to do
Gap years can help you figure out what you are passionate about. Many students rush into in a program they have no idea they will like. Gap years allow you to explore different fields and get a better understanding of what programs work best for you. Luckily, if you know what degree you want before your gap year starts, most universities allow you to defer the starting date of your degree by one year or more. This means you don’t have to worry about applying to universities during your gap year.
Con: Delaying Graduation
Gap years will send you back graduation a year which can dissuade a lot of students from gap years. The feeling of falling behind your classmates can cause jealousy and anxiety. It also delays the time it takes to earn a potentially higher salary after your university degree.
Con: Societal Connotation
Although gap years are becoming more popular, they are still discouraged. Many parents think of them as lazy and a waste of time. I have met fellow students that have told me they would have loved to take a gap year, but their parents forbid it. Although the social connotation is changing, you have to accept that not everyone, including possibly your parents will agree with your decision.
Gap years are not for everyone and are by no means inherently a better decision than going directly into university from high school. It depends on your personal situation that will determine if a gap year could benefit you. Things like not knowing your academic path, financial problems and not feeling ready for university could be signs that a gap year is right for you. If you are considering a gap year, I suggest you make a list of what you are planning to do over your gap year and talk to others that have completed similar gap years. If you do take a gap year make sure it is productive, no matter if that means work, travel or something else.