Gap Year: A Major Setback or Powerful Boost in Life?

man with backpack standing on stone near lake in highland

You get your letter of admission and open it… Congratulations you got into your dream school! This is what you’ve wanted all your life and you should be proud of your achievement. Now all you have to do is choose between your two options: accept and attend or decline and give the spot away. But before you make that decision, it might be wise to consider a THIRD alternative you might not know about: taking a gap year.

In this post we will cover exactly what a gap year is, and whether or not it’s for you. Ready? Let’s dive right in.

What is a Gap Year?

Taking a gap year simply means delaying your admission to college/university for one year. You can do whatever you want for one year and then enroll in college again after your year is done.

This means that your graduating year will be one year later than you had previously intended. Some schools may offer you the option to take a gap year and still have your spot reserved. Unfortunately, other schools will require you to re-apply. This is definitely something to take into consideration before deciding on a gap year.

Either way, the school will usually not make it available to the public that you can take a gap year. Hence why there’s usually only the accept or reject button on their admissions website.

What Are the Benefits of Gap Year?

You might be wondering “why would I ever take a gap year, that sounds silly,” but there are actually plenty of benefits to taking a year off.

To list a few:

  • You have more time to figure out what you want to do in life.
  • A gap year allows you an escape from the constant grind of school.
  • You can earn some money to help with tuition or just for the future.
  • You can spend more time with your family before you officially start your “adult life”.
  • A gap year gives you time to travel (pretend COVID doesn’t exist for a sec).
  • You will be more mature after your gap year and will go into college with a different set of eyes.
  • It makes sense financially.

There are a lot of reasons why you might choose to take a gap year. I personally think a big factor that covers a lot of base is that you will be more mature when you enter college. When you’re 17 to 18 years old, one year can make a huge mental difference. You’ll be better equipped to tackle college life and get more out of college if you take a gap year.

What Are the Drawbacks

Like everything, there’s a positive and negative side to taking a gap year. Here are a few things that might hold you back:

  • Not being able to take classes with your friends (if you end up at the same school)
  • There’s potential to waste a lot of time if you don’t have set things to do (will talk about this a bit later)
  • People might not understand your decision
  • If you travel, it might be costly

I think the main thing that holds people back from gap years is the fear of wasting a year. This is especially true for people who don’t know what they’re going to do for the year, and it’s a solid risk to consider.

Main Things to Consider

In my opinion there are 3 main things to consider before making your decision to take a gap year:

  1. How much can you learn?
  2. What are the financial implications?
  3. What do you value?

1. How much can you learn?

Ask yourself: what can you learn and will you learn more on a gap year or in college?

The things you learn in college will be academic by nature. If you’ve declared a major, you will learn things that will help you get the degree you want. On the other hand, the things you learn through taking a gap year can vary greatly.

If you spend your time travelling, you will learn about the cultures of the various countries you visit. If you spend your time working, you will learn real-life on-the-job skills and how to deal with other people “in the real world.” If you spend your entire year reading, you will gather a whole bunch of knowledge and also open your eyes to the various writing styles of authors.

Figuring out whether you’ll learn more by taking a gap year or by enrolling is a key part of your overall decision.

2. What are the financial implications?

For some people, taking a gap year just doesn’t make sense financially. For others, it doesn’t make sense financially to ENROLL.

This, of course, will depend on a ton of factors:

  • Are you going to travel?
  • Are you going to work?
  • Where will you be living?
  • Do you have a budget?
  • How well can your family support you?
  • Do you have a scholarship that you’re throwing away?

The answers to these questions will largely determine whether or not you can afford taking a gap year. Conversely, they will also determine whether or not you can afford attending college.

3. What do you value?

Not to be cliché, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what you really value. This is going to be your MAIN determining factor.

If you highly value autonomy and the only way to get that is through attending college, then that might be the play for you. On the other hand, if you feel like you never got a chance to spend quality time with your family through high school, a gap year might be the perfect opportunity to “catch up” on those missed years. If you have a business that you want to grow, you might want to take a gap year. But if you want to become a doctor, another year added to your long journey might seem brutal.

It all comes down to what exactly you value, and how that can play out in a enrollment and gap year scenario.

What Can You Do During Your Year Off?

A lot of people I’ve talked to have said something along the lines of: “Oh I’d love to take a gap year but honestly I don’t know what I’d do with so much time.” This part of the post is for them (and you if you’re thinking the same thing.)

Here are a list of just a few things you can do during your year off:

  • Find a job in the industry you want to work in, and figure out if the path you’re on is really right for you.
  • Read tons of books (if you read a book a week, you’ll have read over 50 books by the time your gap year is done).
  • Chase a passion of yours (you might not have a full year off for a long time once you get into the school and job grind).
  • Travel the world and see the places you’ve always wanted to see (or live in places you’ve never been before).
  • Volunteer for a charity that you genuinely care about.
  • Learn a new language

There are so many more, but this is just what I thought of off the top of my head. If you do decide to take a gap year, don’t worry about not having stuff to do. You’ll have more than enough things to do; the only question is, will you be motivated enough to actually do them?

My Decision

green grass field beside body of water under blue sky during daytime; gap year
I was all set and ready to be on Harvard’s golf team!

Personally, I was presented with the choice of a gap year or no gap year. I got into Harvard in the fall of 2019 for the class of 2024 and was absolutely sure that I would attend at first. In fact, I didn’t think I could take a year off even if I wanted to because I was committed to Harvard’s golf team! (a story for another day.) Then COVID hit.

Everything went into lockdown and panic mode and Harvard consequently announced that only freshman could attend in the fall and everyone else had to stay home. Oh, and everything was going to be online. This gave me something to think about. I now started to seriously consider taking a year off. But in the end, I decided to attend. Then I got an email from Harvard:

“Hey sorry to inform you but you’re Canadian and Canada is international and we just made this policy where international students have to stay home. You can take classes online, but you can’t physically come. Sorry.” (Obviously not word for word.)

THIS finally made me change my made and choose to take the year off. Even though I was sort of “forced” to take a gap year, I can honestly say that it has been SO worth it.

Currently, I’m working at a job that I love, reading tons of books, and spending lots of time with my loved ones (also learning a ton). If I could do it all over again and I had the option to attend school, I would still choose a gap year.

So… Should You Take a Gap Year?

In this post we covered a lot of ground, but mainly I wanted to impart you with two things:

  1. There’s a third option besides “accept” and “reject”! It’s a gap year.
  2. Whether you take a gap year or not is dependent on what you value.

If you’re a high school student, I urge you to consider a gap year very seriously as this could be something that changes your life. Even if you’re in college or university, I think that you’d find value in also examining the possibility of taking a year off (some schools allow a “deferral ” mid-undergrad.) Either way, I hope you got some value out of this read.

What are your thoughts on gap years? Are they good or bad? Let me know in the comments and also tell me if you’ll be taking a year off!

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Thanks for reading through Gap Year: A Major Setback or Powerful Boost in Life? and thank you for following along. If you’re working on accumulating money that you can invest with and want to learn about how to build income opportunities as a student, head over to this post here. If you want to learn more about me, head over to this link here. Finally, if you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit.) Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

3 Comments

    1. Personally it’s been the best decision I’ve made but definitely weigh everything accordingly. (Maybe use MJ’s WADM 😉

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