The Ivy Coach Daily

November 3, 2023

The Pros & Cons of Taking a Gap Year After High School

Gap years can scare away admissions officers at elite universities.

Is your child considering taking a gap year? Maybe they want to travel, complete an internship, take classes, or just relax for a year before starting their college experience. Or perhaps they’re simply not yet mature enough to go off on their own and leave the family nest. So, let’s explore gap years, their pros and cons, and whether your child should take a gap year or proceed directly to college.

What Is a Gap Year?

A gap year is a one-year interlude, typically between high school and college. The two most typical gap years are as follows: (1) after a student completes their senior year of high school, before applying to colleges, and (2) after a student completes their senior year, after they’ve already been admitted to college(s) but instead chose to defer their enrollment by one year.

Of course, a student can also take a gap year during their college years, though such a circumstance is rare (although it was common a few years back, during the height of the pandemic). But, for most students considering taking a gap year, it’s typically before they begin their college experience.

Why Do Students Take Gap Years?

So, why do students take gap years? It could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they needed a year off to de-stress after completing rigorous high school coursework and standardized testing. Or perhaps their parents are extremely concerned they don’t yet know how to do laundry, make their beds, or select healthy meal options. Or maybe they’ve always wanted to travel to Uganda and now seems like the perfect chance. Or perhaps they’re an athlete on the cusp of being recruited, but they need to spend a PG year (postgraduate year) at a boarding school to work on their skills. In short, the reasons can vary drastically among students!

What Do Students Do During Gap Years?

And just as the reasons for pursuing a gap year vary drastically among students, so too do the ways in which students spend their gap years — from travel to taking additional high school coursework, to taking college coursework, to completing an internship, to securing a job, to participating in a formal gap year program (if you’re wondering where we at Ivy Coach stand on fancy schmancy gap year programs, we’re against them big time!). Yes, just like fancy schmancy summer programs.

Should You Take a Gap Year? Here Are the Pros and Cons:

Below are some potential pros and cons of taking a gap year. Of course, the pros and cons depend on the student’s circumstance and how they’re spending the interlude.

Pros of Taking a Gap YearCons of Taking a Gap Year
Your child can travel to faraway lands. If your child hasn’t yet been admitted to the college of their dreams, a gap year can scare away admissions officers.
Your child can complete coursework beyond the high school courses taken to date.Your child can find themselves feeling lost, alone, and isolated while all their friends are off to college. FOMO is real!
Your child can rest up, relax, and destress before beginning college.Your child may get bored quickly.
Your child can complete an internship.Your child can lose educational momentum and they may not even wish to continue their studies in college.
Your child can secure a job.Your child might be wasting a year’s time.
Your child can enjoy a unique time they may never again have the opportunity to experience.Your child might get bored of being in another city or country after a few weeks…and then what?
Your child can fine-tune their athletic skills to get recruited by a college’s varsity coach.Your child might get upset and angry with you if they’re stuck at home for a year while their friends are off at college.
Your child can spend added time with loved ones.Your child might learn how to do their laundry in a week. Then what?

What Do College Admissions Officers Think of Gap Years?

For students who have not yet earned admission to the college of their dreams — either because they put off applying to colleges by a year or they weren’t happy with their college results as high school seniors — we at Ivy Coach strongly advise against taking a gap year, with only one exception.

That exception? If a student enrolls at a boarding school and completes a formal PG year — either because they need a year to mature, to take additional classes to possibly make up for lower grades earlier on in high school, or to improve their skill at a sport for which they hope to be recruited.

So, why are we so against gap years for students who have yet to be admitted to the college of their dreams? Because gap years — no matter what people promoting fancy schmancy gap year year programs may tell you to the contrary — scare off admissions officers. Think about it. Unless a student does a formal PG year at a boarding school, that student will then be applying a year removed from a formal high school curriculum. That’s scary to admissions officers!

Also, keep in mind that admissions officers are going to be very critical of how a student spends that year. If they spend their time at the beach or go to some faraway land, that’s not exactly going to inspire an admissions officer to root for them. After all, admissions officers are human beings and they too would love to go to the beach or travel. In short, it reeks of privilege, and that renders applicants less likable, which should be the opposite of their objective in the elite college admissions process.

And as to students who wish to take a gap year after earning admission to their dream college by deferring their enrollment, we don’t have an issue with such an interlude so long as it’s not going to lead to hesitation down the line of enrolling at that school the following year.

Ivy Coach’s Final Thoughts on Gap Years

We understand that Ivy Coach’s thoughts on gap years may surprise our readers (although surely not our regular readers). But if you’re the parent of a high school student considering taking a gap year, these thoughts were likely circulating in the back of your head, too.

So, now, seeing them on the page, we encourage you to have your child reconsider their gap year plans — unless, of course, they’re pursuing a formal gap year at a boarding school because that’s generally the only gap year path we stand behind.

If you have questions about your child’s gap year plans or wish for them to hear a voice of reason, fill out Ivy Coach’s consultation form to learn about our college counseling services.

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