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Is taking a gap year the best option for your student?

Teen works with a mentor on engineering equipment.
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. What is a gap year?
2. What are the advantages?
3. What are the disadvantages?

Not every student enters college immediately after high school. Some need more time to mature, while others want to explore career paths before selecting a major. For reasons like this, some families may want to consider a gap year for their young adult.


A gap year is a semester or year of experiential learning to deepen the student’s practical, professional and personal awareness, typically taken after high school and before career or post-secondary education, according to the Gap Year Association, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization.  

Students usually use this type of sabbatical to explore careers, travel or save money for higher education. Although the percentage of students who defer college is small, the trend has been increasing in recent years.  


Students should consider a gap year for the right reasons with a strategy, says Kathleen Karran-McCoy, dean for Student Development and Ombudsman at Palm Beach State College.  

“A gap year is an intentional opportunity for the student to grow – those things have to be planned. And how do we do it safely – that now has to be added to the conversation, if you’re considering traveling or working outside the home,” she says, referring to the 2020 global pandemic.  

She lists the advantages as learning responsibility, either by developing discipline by being a reliable employee, contributing to household expenses or managing personal finances.

Students are most successful when they use their gap year to tackle something new, says Jeffrey Selingo, author of “There is Life After College.” The experience should be used to explore areas of curiosity, apprentice under a mentor, travel to a different region and/or master a skill. The goal should be to develop attributes for college and a career, such as self-esteem, self-sufficiency, communication skills and analytical thinking.


Families should consider the cost of a gap year, Karran-McCoy says. If not planned properly, time and money could be wasted. The student’s maturity level and self-motivation also should be seriously evaluated.  

“Sometimes a gap year seems like a good idea, but the necessary maturity level is not always present in the student. It could be a scary experience for a lot of students,” she says. “The first year at college is such an adjustment. Everything is so new. Sometimes colleges and universities create a level of comfort. With a gap year, that is not there. The idea is to experience growth, and no one is easing you into that growth experience.”  

For the most successful outcome, Karran-McCoy recommends planning an intentional year. “Know what you expect to gain from the experience. Is it a more professional disposition, making connections, learning about the real work experience?” she says. “Make sure you design the experience.”    


 • Kathleen Karran-McCoy, dean for Student Development and Ombudsman, Palm Beach State College
Gap Year Association
• Jeffrey Selingo, “There is Life After College” 

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