Gap Year Before College?

The gap year is a powerful tool for fostering maturity in students applying to college.

Some people love the “gap year” idea (a year without formal schooling between high school and college).  Others say, “Nose to the grindstone! Get it done!”

Fortunately for our daughter Alison, who raced through high school in three years and then needed a breather, the concept of taking a gap year before college became popular in the early 2000s. Alison took a gap year traveling the U.S. in a van, and it worked out well for her. So I am in favor of it, for some folks. With some caveats.

 Advantages of a Gap Year Before College

Gap year before college to mind elephants?

  1. Students who aren’t sure about what to study can immerse themselves in some new experiences before they sink big $ into education.   For example, do you want to be a vet? You could volunteer for your own doggie’s doctor or mind elephants in Thailand through
  2. Tired of sitting in classes for twelve years? Roam and learn.
  3. Want to give a little? The gap year is the perfect opportunity to realize that so many folks need help in this world. Our daughter planned a trip across country where she worked for three Habitat for Humanity projects.
  4. The real life experience can strengthen your character, giving you more empathy, curiosity, resilience and maturity. These qualities all correlate closely with success, says
  5. You can work to save money for college.
  6. Learning what you don’t want to do can be just as valuable as learning what you do want to do.

Disadvantages of a Gap Year Before College

  1. Your friends from high school might graduate college and enter the job market one year before you.
  2. Loss of momentum of the discipline of study habits.
  3. Some gap year programs can get pricy. For example, the “Ultimate Adrenaline Gap Year” in New Zealand starts at $3000. (But a gap year doesn’t HAVE to be pricy!)

Recommendations for Students Considering Taking a Gap Year

  1. Apply to college BEFORE you go. This is IMPORTANT! This means that you can use your high school counselor to help you apply while you are still in high school, and you can travel knowing that you have a college acceptance tucked away and ready for you. (You can always defer your admission offer if you decide you’d like to extend your gap year.)
  2. Have a plan. Don’t just say “I’m going to travel.” Predetermine locations you will be visiting, a purpose for your travel and a budget.
  3. Take notes! Network with new friends as you go, and keep a record of their email addresses. Try using a digital journal such as to capture locations, images, and epiphanies.
  4. According to Jennifer Haines, the American Gap Association at .is set up to vet dangerous or expensive experiences.  They also provide resources in terms of financial aid or funding.
  5. Don’t forget to write to your mother.


“Mind the Gap” photo copyright Debbie Merion.  “Mind the Gap” is a sign that you see next to trains in England.  For Americans,  it roughly translates to “Watch out for this big hole.  It’s for trains, not people.”


[Need more assistance with writing your own compelling story or your college application essay?  Work with an award-winning writer who helps businesses, authors and students tell their story in a compelling, meaningful way.  Write Debbie]

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