If I take a gap year after high school will it hurt my resume and overall chances of admission?

I'd like to take a year to work, save money, travel, and write. I know these aren't spectacular feats that will look amazing on my resume, but will they make me look much worse than a student applying right out of high school?


Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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Hi, I've had several of my high school seniors take a gap year before entering college. They applied to college first, and then once they decided upon the gap year, deferred admission for a year. This way, they didn't have to worry about whether or not the year out would affect their applications, and their college acceptance kept them motivated to follow through with their college goals when the year ended.

Starting college before you are ready could cost you quite a bit of time and money in the long run. A gap year gives you time, as you know, to explore and narrow your research interests so that your undergraduate years can be as productive as possible.

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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More and more colleges not only respect a student who takes a gap year, but encourage students to take time off for just this purpose. Harvard University goes so far as to to make mention of it on their admissions page, suggesting that in a time-starved, pressure-cooker world, the chance to take time off to grow and learn is invaluable. Likewise, Princeton encourages admitted students to take a gap or "bridge" year as they call it by working with their bridge network program. The caveat is that these two colleges only offer official support for a gap year to admitted students by allowing them to defer. However, that does not mean they wouldn't think highly of someone who pursued a gap year on their own before applying. My feeling is that they would. Harvard and Princeton are pace-setting schools in the world of education. The fact that they embrace this kind of time-off, speaks of their respect for anyone making this choice.

You should feel comfortable that whether the gap year concept originates with you, or is part of a formal deferred admissions program, it is widely accepted. That does not mean everyone will be comfortable doing it. And that's the advantage of pursuing a break between high school and college. With a gap year, you take yourself out of the cookie-cutter pile of applications to college. That's a good thing. You diversity yourself. You show you can embrace risk and adventure. You demonstrate independence and that you're not a follower. Whereas your application to college with just high school experiences might be lackluster, a gap year would allow you to show your individuality and promise. You could burnish your image. Most importantly, it's what* you do* with your time off, and how you frame it in your application, that will have the greatest impact on how well your gap year experience is perceived. If you can make it meaningful, relevant, and show you have matured, you will have upped your chances of winning admission.

A final thought: my older daughter - along with many of her friends - went from an intense, competitive high school straight into an equally intense, highly competitive college. Like her peers, she had carried upwards of 8 AP's, and between college applications and schoolwork, by senior year was tottering on burnout. I suggested a gap year. In a true act of heresy, I even encouraged her to take time off to work as a ski instructor (translation: a ski bum). She wouldn't. She couldn't see herself out of lockstep with all her peers heading to college and being the only one not sharing in this next stage of life. I was not the only parent pushing this gap year. All of us felt high school and college had become this crazy race to nowhere. I share this to say it takes guts to do a gap year. And the colleges know this.

Bernice Wilson, I'm an ESL college student

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A year ago I almost took a gap year because of the problems with writing. But family and friends dissuaded me from such a step. My best friend recommended me to use Paperial.com, an online helper for those who are not very good at writing. I'm still sure that was right not taking the gap year. Why to lose time if you have the possibilities not to lose it?

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher, Author, and Artist

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I definitely agree with much of what the above experts have said. I really like the idea of deferred admission because that gives you a structure and a definite plan to come back to school. You may even focus what you do in the gap year around where you plan to go to school or what you plan to study. But the thing about gap years is that if you're not careful, life can take its own direction, and you may end up with a gap 2 or 3 or 4 years. Not that this is necessarily the worst thing in the world, but in my experience, in today's ultra-competitive society, once you step away from something like education, it may not be quite as easy as you think to get back in. Schools will ask you what you have been doing during this time (when you apply), and will want to know why you stepped away.

If you have used the gap year wisely to hone your skills, or truly find a direction in which you'd like to go, then you'll be fine. But even if you have many rich experiences during this year, yet you come back still not knowing exactly what you want to do (which is entirely possible), then I believe you'd definitely be at a disadvantage because they won't give you that benefit of the doubt that is afforded to many confused incoming freshmen. I believe a big reason for this is that regardless of what you want to study in college, there will always be a great many credits of required subjects that you MUST take anyway. So even when you don't know what your major will be, you are still getting work done towards your degree that is required. During a year off, you cannot do that.

Also, you said you wanted to work, but again, it depends - is this job just a job to make money, or is it what you really want to do? Or perhaps something that will help you in this pursuit? Most colleges won't care much about jobs that are just jobs, nor will they care much about the money you have saved. They will only care about what you bring to the table. So I would say, err on the side of caution. Definitely do what you feel is right and best for you, but don't let yourself stray too far off course, because in today's society, with its increasing population and often decreasing economy, it's best to get your foot in the door when you get a chance. Hope that helps!

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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Used well, a gap year won't hurt either of those things. In fact, it might bolster both of those things! A gap year can be an opportunity to explore a field or area you are considering for college. Or you can do something totally different. I can't tell you how many students arrive in my classes with no sense of direction and feel like they are wasting their money. The students who come into my classes after a gap year (or two!) feel much more focused and grounded. However, as others are warning, once you step out of the education environment, it sometimes feels hard to transition back in. I hope you consider this exciting prospect!

Robyn Scott, Educational Consultant, TutorNerds LLC

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A gap year isn't automatically a bad thing but there are some pitfalls to look out for. One of the issues many students have is that they get out of the groove of studying. After a year of traveling, it may be hard to spend 8 hours a day in a classroom. I suggest maintaining some sort of schedule so that the adjustment back to school will be smooth. Additionally, if you are taking off time to work, that is a very admirable (and necessary) thing to do. It would be unusual for a university to fault you for earning money to pay for college tuition. Make sure to mention that you are working and share some of your writing, if possible, with the colleges. As long as you can communicate that you were doing something important with your time, it should be fine. As mentioned, the safest way to take a gap year is to apply now and defer admission one year (make sure the universities you are applying to offer this as an option). However, if you've already started your gap year, just make sure that you meet all of the deadlines for admission (usually Nov. 1st, Dec. 1st, and Jan. 1st).

I hope this helps!

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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I agree with Christine. It is going to depend on you. Should you decide to take a year off, I'd like to suggest a couple of things.

  • Keep your skills sharp. When laying off for a year, everything you have learning becomes distant and may make it difficult for you to connect the concepts again. Writing is a great start but I'd also suggest utilizing math and research as well.

-Find a career that you are interested in rather than waiting to get back to college. Use this time to research, explore and possibly do an internship of some type.

  • Make it only for one year. It is too easy to say that you can make it two year or more and the next thing is that you have pushed off a chance to get ahead.

  • Look for opportunities that could allow you to earn credit for it in college. You never know until you ask.

  • Minimize your expenses while out of school. I like your idea of saving money during the year off but the traveling could erase all of that hard work. Budget yourself so that you are not in a deficit entering college. It makes it more difficult to eliminate on top of steep student loans.

Good luck!

Stacey Ebert, Educator, Writer, Event Planner, Traveler

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A gap year will not hurt you. As mentioned above, experience is valuable. If your gap year involves sitting on the couch for 365 days and doing nothing, chances are it's not going to be looked on positively, however; if that's not what you plan to do - you will be able to write and explain about your rewarding experience. Perhaps its a job, an internship, work experience or travel that broadens your mind and shows you various perspectives. Not everyone is ready for university directly after high school.

Keep in mind that if travel or volunteer experience is where you will choose to spend your time, reach out to organizations who specialize in gap years or volunteer experience for recent high school graduates. You might even be able to receive some credit upon entering university with you new experiences. Keep a journal and write, write, write. You never know where the world will be in the next few years and your gap year may provide you with a change of heart, career, mind or a new direction in life. Keeping a record of your experiences can only help you later in life.

If work or internships are your thing; also reach out to organizations and companies that like to offer experience to recent high school graduates. Their early direction could help put you on a path for a career after you're done with school (if that's what you choose). It's also possible that a chance to experience a bit of what you think you might want to do at an early age might steer you in a completely different direction or on a different path.

No matter what, the experience is priceless. Remember to sell yourself well, write about it, interact with others and keep in mind that although this may not be the norm for those in your circle - there's nothing negative about it. Good luck on your endeavors.

David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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No, a gap year will not hurt your chances, unless you did nothing meaningful that you can write about during the application process. A gap year is a time for you to explore the world, a certain knowledge area, or gain hands-on experience in some field of work. This experience may give you more clarity and what you want to do in and after college, and why. These experiences make for great personal statements and can provide great letters of recommendation.

Christine VanDonge, Senior Research Analyst

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I think answers to this question will vary greatly -- some will say YES of course it will impact your chances of admissions while others will say NO take the time to make the best choice. First, I would like to suggest you read this book. It discusses the gap year at great length.

Second, what I think is most important is how you spend this gap year. You mentioned working, traveling, and writing. If you can use these three activities to your advantage, your gap year might actual help you chance of admission. Here are somethings to consider.

  1. What type of work do you plan to do in the gap year? Ideally, the work should be somehow related to the major you hope to pursue in college/university. Your job should help you do to a few things 1. gain practical experience that you can discuss on a college application in your field of interest. 2. make connections in your field of interest 3. enhance your understanding of your field of interest. If your current job will not allow you to do these items, I would suggest looking for additional work (or a new job completely) in the field you are interested in.

  2. What type of writing do you plan to do in the gap year? Again, like the work it should ideally be tied to your desired major. Who do you plan to write for? Yourself? A blog? A website?

3, Where do you plan to travel and how will this travel enhance your understanding of issues such as diversity? Traveling can look great on a resume as it shows you can adapt to new surroundings. You want to make sure the travel is not purely for self pleasure, but to learn more about a culture. Do you know a foreign language? Could you travel somewhere to increase your fluency in this language?

Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions.

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