Getting into College After Gap Year

Deciding to take a gap year after high school is a time when a teen can mature, and figure out who they are. But is it for everyone and what difficulties might arise?

Getting into college after a gap year is harder than going straight from high school. The best solution is to apply as normal and defer your place.

The process needs to be given a lot of thought. It will depend on a number of different areas. Let’s look at how it will or won’t suit you.

  • How do I take a gap year?
  • What plans do I need for college
  • Should I retake my tests?
  • Financial aid/rewards
  • Benefits of a gap year

Senior year is full of highs and lows. Everyone talking about finals and college. But what if you’re taking a gap year? Is that going to be ok? Let’s go through how it works.

How do I take a gap year?

Firstly let’s talk about what a gap year actually is. A gap year is originally a European idea but is becoming more popular in the US. It is time spent, generally between high school and university traveling, volunteering, and finding out new interests that may not have been available during high school. To many, it is perceived as a bit of a dropout scenario. A time to just do nothing but travel the world for a year on the bank of mum and dad. But the reality is that a gap year is probably more work and more intense than being in college. (if planned well!)

If you think it is something you would like to explore you do as I say, need to plan ahead.
You can decide to travel internationally or stay within the states. America is after all huge! And many teens have never left their own state.

If you are going to stay within the states I would encourage you to travel somewhere far-reaching. Somewhere that’s difficult to get home from. You will, of course, be homesick but the experience will outshine that and it is great preparation for going to college.

Should I retake tests?

If you have followed the norm and applied to college in senior year and been accepted then there is no need for you to re-sit your SAT or ACT. However, if you are applying to college in your gap year you may want to consider retaking your SAT / ACT. There may be a number of reasons you have put off going to college. It may not be that you are taking a year off to go find yourself. You may have to work for a year to save money for college. You may have medical reasons or family reasons. These are all valid reasons and should definitely be included in your application when you are applying.

If you are interested, I have also written the following posts about the SAT / ACT / GPA;

Should I take both the SAT and the ACT?

Taking the SAT first time senior year

Is GPA or SAT score more important?

What is a good GPA?

If you have decided to travel during your gap year and are thinking about re-sitting your SAT / ACT, you should allow for the fact that yes of course you can sit tests outside of the US but they won’t necessarily be as regular as at home or the same cost. They may be considerably more.

Unless you feel you are going to score much more than you did in high school, which may be the case if you were struggling with illness or attendance for whatever reason, I would say don’t re-sit them. It’s unlikely that you would want to bring textbooks with you and again there may be internet access issues that will cause stress if you are trying to study.

Applying for college after high school is of course the exact same process but is sometimes more difficult as it involves more work on your part. However in saying that the experience of a gap year will certainly make the most amazing application essay!

What about financial aid?

If you have deferred your college place and qualified for financial aid you will have to make an additional application the following year to FAFSA. If you were awarded it already and circumstances within your family have not changed financially then chances are you will be awarded it again.

The same goes for scholarships. They can sometimes be deferred or you can apply again and as above if it was offered initially it’s unlikely that you won’t be offered it a second time.
There also is the opportunity to earn an education grant during your gap year. By volunteering with certain organizations you can be awarded or earn education grants or stipends.

Such as in the AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. The programs that are offered are wide and varied but all will aid in maturing and focussing a teen before college. The added bonus of funds being available to offset fees for college is a fantastic incentive, but as before any volunteering is hard work, but also rewarding and should be the focal reason for you taking on the job, not the monetary reward at the end.

My post, accepted to college but can’t afford it, touches on different finical aid options for going to college.

There are also colleges that fully support students taking a gap year (UNC Chapel Hill’s Global Gap Year). They give an award each year to seven students of $7500. You have to sell them your amazing plans and hopefully, they will award you the money to fulfill your dreams. Other schools such as Princeton offer first semesters abroad to immerse themselves in community projects in poverty-stricken areas with travel your only expense.

Do some research on your chosen school and see if there are any benefits or awards on offer. Maybe you can take your gap year as part of your first year and earn some credits while you’re at it.

Benefits of getting into college after gap year

A gap year is certainly not for everyone. It’s sometimes seen as a jolly for wealthy kids. But this is not necessarily the case. As discussed, the cost does not have to be prohibitive. There are many routes to having a gap year without the exorbitant expense. But what are the real benefits of a gap year?

Maturity: this is probably the main benefit. Going to college is difficult. For many, it is the first stint away from home. But by doing a gap year, you probably are going to be away from home and maybe even in another country! Colleges all agree that freshman students that have taken a gap year are much more focused and are more likely to finish their degree in four years rather than 6 years which is the average.

Career opportunities: A huge benefit of a gap year is further down the road with prospective employers. A gap year shows a willingness to explore new avenues. That you’re not afraid to pursue the unknown or transfer to a new position, possibly out of state or further afield. Employers agree that gap year applicants work better in team environments but also make good problem solvers and team leaders. They also feel they are more organized and dependent because they have long ago decided their career path because of their gap year experience.

Culture Gap: If you travel for your gap year you will be exposed to all different manor of people and cultures. This is especially noticeable if you travel to a non-english speaking country. It will force you to learn a new language, even if it’s only basic phrases. So how does this help when you start college? Your exposure to new people and cultures is already homed. Lots of teens going off to college are a bit overwhelmed by different cultures and nationalities. As a traveled gap year student you will be very cosmopolitan in your dorm if you can communicate with different nationalities and therefore will settle in much better.

Confirming your life path: The benefits of a gap year are many and great. As I say whether you travel abroad or stay at home, as long as you have a plan to do something productive with your time then it is worthwhile. You may have always wanted a career in medicine and in your gap year gone to help in a field hospital in Africa. You may be 100% sure on completion that yes you want nothing more than to pursue your medical career or you may find that your skills lie somewhere else, in research or humanitarian aid. But it is for sure better to find out now than halfway through a major that you hate. There’s nothing better to teach than feet on the ground, doing, immersed in a chore.

So don’t be afraid. Get planning!

Tara Cunningham

Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort. I hope that you find our thoughts and ideas useful and interesting.

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