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Gap years are still a pretty new concept in the US. Most students leap from high school right into university with only a couple of months to prepare for the transition. It’s something that students have been doing for decades, and a majority are prepared for the lack of downtime between the high school graduation and returning to a freshman status once again.
What is a Gap Year?
A gap year is a period of time, usually taken after completing high school or before starting college, where an individual takes a break from traditional education or employment to engage in a range of activities such as traveling, volunteering, interning, or working. The length of a gap year can vary from a few months to a full year, and the activities can be tailored to the individual’s interests and goals. Students basically take a break from the typical routine and gain new experiences, skills, and perspective.
Is Taking a Gap Year Worth It?
However, there are some students who need a break from the constant juggle of life needs and school work demands. Those students can benefit from taking a year off between high school and college, then resume their college plans. The year off, known as the gap year, is an opportunity for a student to decompress, step back from the drive to earn a college degree, and take stock of their future.
A gap year can be of benefit to a student who’s in need of a break from school. However, it’s important that the student recognize the fact that the year off does not mean never going to college at all, especially if they’ve done a lot of work to apply for a position and financial aid. Taking time off from education shouldn’t equate to sitting around and playing video games for a year. A student should make the effort to find a job, volunteer in activities, or work on a project that’s related to their chosen career path. Staying active keeps an individual engaged and interested in getting an education to help build their career. Treating the gap year as if it’s an extended vacation runs the risk of the student losing their momentum and not going to college at all.
Does a Gap Year Hurt My College Application?
The gap year doesn’t hurt or improve your college application if you haven’t already applied to schools. Most of the time, the people behind the admissions process don’t pay close attention to the fact that an applicant didn’t apply during their senior year of high school. Prospective students have many valid reasons behind not applying for a spot at a college, and the admissions department doesn’t sit in judgment of those reasons.
In the event that you have applied for a spot at a college and were accepted, you need to be proactive about contacting the school to inform them of your decision to defer your attendance for a year. The admissions department needs to know that you plan to defer and make a decision what to do with your vacant slot. Meanwhile, if you still intend to attend that particular school after a gap year, you need to make sure that you can attend the following year and find out what steps you have to take to preserve your opportunity to attend.
Many colleges and universities today recognize the popularity of intentional gap years, and have started offering dedicated gap year programs. If you’re not ready to go to college, but not sure what you’d do with yourself in a gap year, look into some of these programs.
Will I Have to Re-Do My ACT or SAT Tests?
Unless the school specifically states otherwise, you don’t have to retake the ACT/SAT tests after a gap year. If you think you can improve upon your scores after a gap year, you can take the tests again and submit them when applying to a college if you haven’t already. Otherwise, your original scores are still valid and can be used for the application.
The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many universities to suspend their ACT/SAT requirements, and there is no predicting when the test score requirements will be reinstated. Students who intend to take a gap year, but haven’t taken their ACT/SAT tests should plan on taking them when the opportunity arises. There is no downside to taking the test in the months prior to applying to a university, and it can actually be beneficial in that the scores are fresh and accurately reflect your current understanding of the material.
How Does a Gap Year Affect My Financial Aid?
There is no one straight answer to this question due to the different types of financial aid that are available. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) offers a grant, but the amount changes based on certain situations. Taking a gap year can affect the amount you’re granted because it’s based on the amount of money a university has to give to students. Money earned during your gap year has to be reported and can also lower the amount you’re awarded.
Federal student loans typically require repayment when you’re not actively engaged in two semesters a year. However, they have a deferment option that can be used when taking a gap year. Check the loan to find out how long the deferment is active and make sure you’re ready to begin school the moment the deferment expires.
All other types of school funding and loans have different requirements that may, or may not, accommodate a gap year. Check the terms and conditions of the scholarships and loans before applying in the event you’re planning to take a gap year.
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