What are the Advantages and Disadvantages to a Gap Year?

When it comes to the advantages and disadvantages to a gap year, many parents and students find it hard to choose the right course of action. The reality is, this decision makes sense for some students but not for others. By considering the various pros and cons of taking a year off between high school and college, families can determine whether or not their student would benefit from the practice or whether they would fall behind their peers without gaining a real competitive advantage in the process.

Advantage: Uncertain Students Have Time to Think and Find Direction

One of the most stressful parts about attending college is that it forces students to narrow all of their interests into a single major and an eventual career (please also see: How Do I Choose a College Major?). While some students know exactly what they were “born” to do, other students struggle with containing and curtailing their long list of potential interests and enjoyable hobbies. Taking a year off to explore options, including through the pursuit of part-time jobs, internships, and apprenticeships, could help students achieve that focus without wasting money on tuition. For those students who find it hard to narrow down their career choices, the move to take a gap year could allow them to save money and frustration.

Disadvantage: Falling a Year Behind One’s Peers

There’s a key thing to remember about a gap year: It’s an uncommon decision, and most of a student’s friends will spend that year enjoying the full college experience. This matters for several reasons. First and foremost, it means that old friends will be busy with new experiences, and the student pursuing a gap year might feel left out or left behind. It also puts the student a year behind their peers in terms of pursuing internships and careers, which could make them feel as if they’re an underachiever or they somehow made the wrong choice. Depending on each student’s mentality, a gap year may or may not be damaging to how they perceive their chances at opportunities once they get to campus.

Advantage: Gap Years Often Lead to More Powerful Resumes

A resume is only as good as the various experiences that it summarizes, and students who opt for a gap year will be able to list far more opportunities and experiences than their on-campus peers. Whether it’s volunteer work, traveling, or working professionally in one of their potential career fields, students will have a unique array of attractive items to list under “professional experiences” and “professional skills.” This could come in handy when seeking post-college job opportunities, and it could make up for falling a year behind the student’s peers as a result.

Disadvantage: Tuition Costs Will Be Higher

Tuition costs go up every single year, without fail, and often at a rate that’s faster than the pace of inflation. Students who take a gap year will find that their fourth year of college is significantly more expensive than their first year would have been, had they not taken a gap year beforehand. This is primarily a consideration for students who are attending an out-of-state or private institution, or those students whose parents cannot foot the tuition bill for all four years of enrollment. Even so, it’s a powerful consideration that goes along with any college-oriented decision.

A Powerful Way to Differentiate from the Crowd

Gap years, though controversial, allow students to become more focused, experienced, and tuned into their own identity. For this reason, the gap year is a powerful experience that helps students stand out from the crowd. Despite this positive development, however, the advantages and disadvantages to a gap year include financial, professional, and psychological decisions that must be considered on an individual basis.