Thank you, Malia Obama, for making the gap year cool.
For decades, college admissions deans and college counselors have tried unsuccessfully to encourage more students to defer college for a year. Malia may have needed to take a gap year for a host of reasons, but her decision is sure to influence others to consider doing the same.
What is it?
The gap year is when a student takes a year between graduation from high school and enrolling in college to do something meaningful. Students can do almost anything as long as they commit to one or multiple activities for the course of what would have been their freshman year of college.
Some common gap year options are:
- Working a traditional job to earn money
- Real world experience through an internship, apprenticeship or military training
- Working in an under-served community
- Devoting time to athletic training
- Doing something untraditional, like writing a book or studying a craft like acting
There is no right or wrong thing to do during the year as long as the student dedicates themselves full-time to something equally important as school.
Why do it?
Stepping away from a structured educational environment to do something meaningful for a year can be hugely beneficial for a student who hasn’t had time to step back from the grind of school. The gap year experience usually has less to do with impressing colleges and more to do with growth and giving back.
Whether a student needs to do a gap year to earn money or they want to do it, the year teaches them that not everything in life is about getting into college. They get to do something that they would never have time to do if they were in high school or college full-time—and that freedom provides a wealth of opportunities.
Any adversity or inspiration experienced during the gap year helps a college freshman adjust to the challenges of their first year. One year can make all the difference when it comes to dealing with a roommate, peer pressure, and being responsible for oneself. In fact, gap year students often become positive influencers in the classroom and dorm life as they draw on other experiences to help them and their peers through the first year of college.
When to apply to college?
Most students who plan to do a gap year will apply to college during their senior year of high school. Once they are admitted and send in an enrollment deposit at a college, the student can submit a request to defer their enrollment. This can be done through an email or formal letter to the admissions office sometime in May.
If the student has a plan in mind, their request will be taking more seriously.
Most requests are granted for a year which means the student’s spot in the next freshman class is reserved. The sooner a student sends in the request after submitting their deposit, the higher the likelihood that the request will be granted.
If the student has a significant blemish on their high school record, they may consider applying to college during the gap year. The experience of a gap year can lead to greater perspective and maturity which can alleviate some concerns about the student’s ability to succeed in college. Writing their college essay or submitting an additional essay about their gap year experience can be helpful, especially if it shows growth, responsibility, and humility.
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Students who are not happy with their college choices during senior year, may reapply during the gap year. However, they would need to do something monumental during the gap year for their college choices to dramatically improve.
A year to do something that you’ve always wanted to do is both empowering and transformational. While students are delaying college for a year, those who take a gap year usually don’t see it as a back-up plan. They view the gap year as the best laid plan for them. One year to step away from the predictable path can expand one’s mind to new ideas, experiences, and a lifetime of being true to oneself.