Helping High School Students Plan For A Gap Year

Counselor Resources

​Senior year tends to be a blur of applications, exams, and events for many students finishing their high school careers. After 13 years of structured learning, many students decide they need some time off before they launch into their next step. And they aren’t alone. Between 30,000 to 40,000 American students decide to defer college for a semester or a full year, otherwise known as a gap year.

What Is A Gap Year?

When a student decides to take a year off between high school and college or between college and their career, it’s called a gap year. Students can also take a gap semester if that time frame fits their needs better. While there used to be some concern around students not going on to college after a year off, studies show that 90 percent of students enrolled in college after their gap year, and there is a lot of data showing that students who took a gap year do better in college than their peers who go straight from high school.

There are several reasons why a student might take a gap year. Here are some of the most common:

Saving for college:

Some students may recognize that they don’t have the resources to go to college just yet and decide, instead, to work full-time for a year to help pay for their degree program.

Gaining work experience:

By spending time in the field a student wants to major in, they can get a feel for what that career path might be like as well as get some base knowledge in the industry.

Volunteering and Travel:

During this time in a student’s life, they don’t have a lot of responsibilities so many take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference by volunteering or experiencing other cultures through travel.

Figuring Out Their Path:

Most people agree that no one should go to college just to go. So if your student is struggling with what they want to focus on academically and professionally, taking some time for introspection and experiencing different things can help them go into their college career more confidently.

Advising Students On Taking A Gap Year

While gap years are more common than they’ve ever been, there is still a lot to consider before jumping into one. If you have a student contemplating taking some time off before college, help them make a plan.

Guide them in setting a clear goal

Depending on why they want to take a gap year, help them set a formal goal for the time off, such as a specific amount of money saved or researching specific industries and interviewing people from those industries to identify a potential career path. They can even take a few courses to earn college credit and get a few general education classes out of the way. Help your student create mini-goals to build traction toward their larger goals.

Encourage them to apply for college

Even if they are planning to defer their acceptance for a year, have them apply to colleges while they have the momentum and access to the support system of their high school. Their SAT and ACT scores will still be fresh in their minds and their peers will be doing similar things. It will be harder to navigate the system after a year away.

More and more colleges are open to deferments and gap years, but once a student decides to formally take a gap year, help them communicate with the school they want to attend about what they need to do over the year and when the student is ready to enroll.

Keep in touch periodically throughout the student’s gap year

As it fits in with your duties for students still in high school, check in to make sure your gap year student is following through on their goals and staying on track. You can also provide guidance on how the student can translate what they learned to become more prepared for college.

A Gap Year Can Be Part of a Learning Journey

Not all students are ready to tackle college immediately upon high school graduation. Taking a year off to grow and learn can be what a student needs in order to be successful in college. With the resources available and support from you, your gap year students can enter college refreshed and more prepared to finish their academic careers.

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