Are you thinking of taking a Gap Year?

By Maria

Well, relax! You’re not alone. An increasing number of students are considering postponing their college experience for a year while they pursue other interests. Traditionally Gap Years occur between a student’s senior year of high school and their first-year of college. If you’re thinking of planning a Gap Year, take a few of these points into consideration. The notion of a Gap Year isn’t new or revolutionary; rather, it’s been around for awhile but only recently has it become a frequent enough occurrence to warrant national attention. In fact, I recently presented on this topic at our national organization’s (NACAC) fall conference.

Why do students consider taking a Gap Year anyway? Reasons vary as much as snowflakes; but the main thread is often a need to truly find oneself. I remember high school: tons of papers, many late nights, being completely stressed out, and not really knowing what interested me (outside of making good grades and getting into “the right” college). Well, now students are realizing that taking a moment to get off the fast track might benefit them. In no way am I saying that a Gap Year is for everyone. In fact, the opposite is true. Allow me to explain.

There are several really bad reasons for taking a Gap Year. If you fall into any of these categories, you might want to reconsider your motivations for planning a Gap Year.

Scenario 1: You’ve decided to take time off so that you can work on college applications to other universities/colleges because you think your Gap Year will make you (in some way, shape or form) more desirable to highly selective colleges. This is never a good reason to plan time off. The chances that your application will be received in a different light because of your Gap Year experience is slim; most colleges put more emphasis on your classroom work, curricular choices and standardized testing rather than extracurricular experiences when making admission decisions.

Scenario 2: Your high school record is less than stellar, and you’re hoping that a remarkable Gap Year experience will eclipse your modest academic achievement. Again, most colleges place more emphasis on your academic record; a year from now, you’ll still have the same grades on your transcript.

Scenario 3: Your parents are encouraging you to go abroad and expand your horizons. I am a huge advocate of study abroad experiences; however, you can have a very meaningful study abroad trip as a part of your overall undergraduate experience. Look into study abroad programs available to you at different colleges—I’m sure you’ll find many options out there.

Now on to the good. Some students are incredibly bright, high achieving individuals who’ve spent the better part of their academic careers buried under a massive pile of AP projects, pop quizzes, and internships but haven’t had time to truly figure themselves out. In admission, we refer to this as “the treadmill.” Students are pressured to achieve so much and to be so focused on their grades that they might fall short of discovering true passions. A Gap Year is a wonderful opportunity for you to take time to reflect on your interests or to discover a different part of the world. Other students are simply so exhausted from their quest to achieve perfection in high school that they need time to collect themselves before tackling the next phase of their life. Taking time to have a meaningful experience can truly put a student in the right frame of mind for college.


  1. Samantha Reis
    Posted February 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Is University of Richmond willing to defer admissions if a student wants to be involved in an enriching gap year experience before coming to college? And if so – are the scholarships you received available for the next year?

    • Tom
      Posted February 24, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink


      Yes, if a student has been admitted to the University and wishes to take a year for some sort of enriching experience, the Dean of Admission will be glad to review the case and will often grant deferral for a year. (Note Maria’s post above, though – no classes can be taken for credit during the gap year.) Need-based financial aid will always be available, though families will (as always) need to reapply the next year. For merit-based scholarships, you would need to make a formal request to whatever party governs your scholarship; I know that gap year deferrals on scholarships have been granted in the past for several of our scholarships.

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