As college acceptance letters come pouring in and your classmates get more and more excited about this next chapter, you’re feeling a little more anxious—and not the good kind of anxious. You’re starting to feel like maybe college isn’t the right thing for you right now and maybe you need a little more time before you’re ready for that change. Maybe a gap year is what you need instead?
There are all kinds of paths for you to follow after graduating from high school: Some people go straight into college, some people start working right away and some people just need a little more time before beginning the collegiette journey. Here’s a list of the top reasons why you should feel good about your decision to take a year off!
1. You’re taking time to find yourself
Although we have a lot of responsibilities by the time we graduate high school, we’re still pretty young. We’ve only known ourselves as a part of some kind of unit: our graduating class, our sports teams, our clubs, our families. Some people might find it hard to figure out who they are on their own.
Taking a year off, no matter what you do during it, is an amazing way to figure out who you are and what you want out of life. By distancing yourself from being a part of yet another unit, you can start to understand who you are as an individual.
That’s what Morgan Halstead, a junior at the University of California San Diego, thought about when she decided to take a year off. “I just worked during my year off, but even just working on my own let me figure out what I wanted for myself instead of what my school or my friends or my family wanted for me,” she says.
Know that you can choose to take some time off even after you’ve started college, too.
“I was under the impression that I knew what I wanted to do with my future, and that I knew myself enough to make the right decisions—but I was wrong,” says Lucy Hopkins, a freshman at the University of Windsor.
After taking a few classes she hated and really struggling her first semester of college, Lucy decided to take some time off. “The time that I had off was hard for many reasons,” she says. “When I finally came back to university in September, I was so much more ready. I had done a lot of growing up and I had learned a lot about what I really wanted.”
If you feel like you’re just not ready to start college, simply taking the time to know yourself and figure out what you want is a reason in itself to feel good about taking a gap year.
2. You’re making some money
College costs a boatload of money (thanks, student loans)? Making some extra cash during your gap year will make your time at school (and afterwards) less stressful so you can focus more on getting great grades and having the time of your life. During your gap year, you can get a job to save up some money for when you do head to college.
That’s what Rose Goldman, a junior at the University of New Hampshire, did during her gap year. “I knew I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, so I took a gap year,” she says. “I started this waitressing job at a pretty nice restaurant. At the time I thought that was kind of embarrassing… until I checked my bank account after a few months. Between my tips and my paychecks, I was making a ton of money.”
Once you realize how much a year’s worth of paychecks will help you pay for your schooling, you’ll be sure to be psyched about taking a gap year!
3. You’re doing volunteer work
If you’re taking a gap year to do some volunteer work, be excited about the fact that you’ll be bringing good into the world!
When she wasn’t busy cashing in big time at her waitressing job during her gap year, Rose did some volunteering. “It wasn’t some big volunteer job overseas or anything, just most days of the week at the [local animal shelter],” she says. “I liked it because it was just another thing I could do that was productive, and it actually helped me realize that maybe I’d want to do some stuff with nonprofits because I liked the work I was doing so much.”
Whether you’re volunteering with an after-school program for kids or traveling around the country building houses with Habitat for Humanity, doing volunteer work during your gap year is worthwhile. Between the good karmic vibes you’ll get and the potential work experience, volunteering is definitely something you can feel good about.
4. You’re dealing with your family life
There are all sorts of reasons for taking a gap year before college, and for some collegiettes, those reasons can be family-related. No matter the issue, remember that your family is important, so if you feel like you need to be there for them during this time instead of going to college, you should definitely feel good about taking your gap year.
“I took my gap year because of family issues,” says Jayci*, a senior collegiette. “I knew that if I went to college with everything going on at home, I wouldn’t be able to survive. My grades definitely would suffer, and I feel like I would’ve been thinking constantly about the next time I could go home instead of enjoying life at school.”
If you’re constantly worrying about what’s going on with your family or even traveling back and forth from school to home to help them out, you won’t be able to give your all to your college experience. Not only will you not have time to commit to extracurriculars or the social scene, but you also might not be able to give your all in your classes, which can negatively impact your GPA and make you feel disappointed in yourself – which you shouldn’t!
“Things obviously don’t completely resolve themselves within a school year, but by the time the next school year did roll around, I felt more stable and more ready to be in college,” Jayci says. “I still worried about my family and still maybe visited home more often than other students, but when I was at school, it was my main focus.”
If you’re taking a gap year to deal with family issues, take solace in knowing that you’ll be able to fully participate in the college experience once you get there.
5. You’re working on your health
Being a girl isn’t all of the glamour, fun and games we sometimes make it out to be—we often deal with some pretty tough stuff, especially when it comes to our physical and emotional health.
When Jayci was dealing with her family problems, she was also working on herself.
“Things at home weren’t good, so it really affected me emotionally and I was dealing with depression,” she says. “It’s as simple as the fact that the therapist I was more comfortable with was at home, so I got to see her instead of the generic counselor at the school. That really helped. The extra year with my therapist made me so much stronger and happier with life that I didn’t really need her the next year.”
Whether you’re handling depression, an eating disorder or a physical illness, taking the time to take care of yourself and your health is exactly what you need to do—not stress yourself out with school and grades. Remember that if you weren’t taking this gap year to work on your health, you might end up missing a lot of school anyways for doctor’s appointments and personal mental health days. By taking care of yourself, you’re prepping yourself to make the most out of college once you’re ready.
6. You’re traveling
We’ve all heard it a million times during our college admissions lectures: If there’s one thing you should do in your early adulthood, it’s travel to a foreign country. But what if that’s not much of a possibility during your college career? Or maybe you want to travel without being tied down to an academic institution. Some collegiettes can’t study abroad because they won’t be able to finish their majors in time, they’ll be involved in a year-long extracurricular or because of financial reasons, so taking a gap year to travel is a great way to get that done (somewhat) hassle-free.
During her gap year, Danielle Curtis, a junior at Xavier University, traveled to Italy. “I spent three months living with a host family as part of a program with other American kids taking gap years and took Italian, creative writing and photography classes,” she says. “It [gave] me a chance to explore new hobbies that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise … I also became much more independent and confident after my gap year. It was the first time when I was completely responsible for myself, and I think that’s an incredibly valuable experience to have before starting college.”
Whether you’re backpacking across Europe, teaching English in China or driving across the country, know that the people you’ll meet and the experiences you’ll have will be invaluable.
7. Your grades weren’t what you wanted them to be
So maybe you slipped up in one (or two or three) high school classes, so by the time you were applying to colleges, your grades weren’t really where you wanted them. Taking a year off to take a few post-high-school classes or retake the SAT or ACT is an admirable, productive way to spend your time.
“I did wicked bad in high school,” says Kelly Schmidt, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth sophomore who spent an extra year boosting her grades and test scores. “I think having to take an extra year to work harder for my grades made me value college more, because I knew I really had to work for it.”
But how do you go about boosting your grades? We contacted Sharon McNearn, a college admissions counselor, for an answer.
“A lot of private and prep schools have post-grad programs for students,” she says. “This means that the student would repeat their senior year at the school. Gathering transcripts and taking the SAT/ACT works the same way as with typical college application processes.”
Although McNearn highly suggests doing a post-grad year at a preparatory high school, you can also improve your college applications by signing up to retake the SAT/ACT and submitting those new scores to colleges as they apply.
Taking the extra time to improve your grades and test scores doesn’t just help you get into a better school—it helps to teach you better study habits, which will help you in college, too.
8. You know you can always go back to school
Know that taking a year off between high school and college won’t prevent you from enrolling in the future. Remember: In the grand scheme of things, one year really isn’t a long time. If you spend a gap year doing something other than going to college, that doesn’t mean the prospect of school is too far out of reach.
Also know that starting college and taking a semester off doesn’t mean you’ve dropped out of college; it just means you have some more life to live before you can continue your education! “Don’t feel like you’ve missed your chance if you’ve already started college,” Danielle says. “During my gap year, I met tons of people who were taking a semester [or] a year off to just take a breather for a while.”
Taking a gap year isn’t some condemnation saying that you’ll never get to go to college; it’s a period of time that lets you develop and grow, and it can make college an even better experience for you when you do go!
Whether you’re traveling the globe or volunteering in your neighborhood, taking a gap year is something that could completely change your life (in a good way!). Why are you excited to take a gap year? Let us know in the comments below!
*Name has been changed.