Everyone knows the first year of college is the hardest. You're completely on your own for the first time--not to mention trying to pick the right classes, figuring out what you want to major in, dealing with new room-mates, and meeting new people outside your friend group from high school. It’s different and scary.
But, what if you can delay this hellish time for 365 more days? Gap years are usually taken by incoming college freshmen before starting their first semester. During a year off, students can use their break from school to travel, relax and mature before starting undergrad. Here are some things you need to know before considering a gap year:
1.You’ll be graduating later than the rest of your friends
There is nothing more anxiety inducing than watching your friends from college graduate before you do. Scrolling through pictures on Instagram of everyone in their caps and gowns will make you feel like you're not going fast enough. This feeling can cause you to make rash decisions that lead to taking 24 credits at the same time to catch up.
Alexa Hill, a junior at University of South Carolina, has never personally done a gap year, but knows some friends who have. “I've learned from them that not having a 10-year plan isn't the end of the world,” she says.
Make sure you’re okay with graduating slower than you expected. Don’t worry, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is graduating regardless of how fast you’re going.
2. A gap year can turn into years
If you're not focused enough once those 365 days are over, you might want to continue traveling or binge watching Netflix shows rather than focusing on applying for the next available term. Taking a break can turn into a slippery slope of never wanting to go back to class. Make sure you have a plan, or confirm you're enrolled in the right semester once the year is over.
Taking a long break from something will always demotivate you to continue. Think of it like this –you’re on a diet for two days. You see a donut and decide to have a cheat day just after starting. Eventually, you’ll think more cheat days okay. Now you’re sobbing over a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts and regretting all your life decisions.
3.You’ll have more time to choose your major
Some freshmen jump into their dream majors as soon as they start college classes. Sometimes though, you may graduate with a major completely different than you originally planned--or worse, you may regret choosing your major after years of working through it.
Taking the year off before school can solidify or even inspire what you choose to major in. Vanessa Cuadros, a recent graduate from Florida International University, used credits towards her old pre-med major when she realized she wanted to major in communications. Although Vanessa strongly disagrees with taking a year off, she suggests riding the tide and seeing what you like while actively taking classes. By being inspired by friends and professors, Vanessa was able to choose her major without taking the year off.
4. Taking time off may affect your financial aid
Depending on when you applied, scholarships are spread throughout the semester. If you start a year after you planned, that scholarship may be given to someone else. In some cases, if there are some financial changes within your household in that year, your FAFSA can also be affected as well.
Amy Donaldson, an advisor for the school of journalism at Florida International University, explains the difference, “For a scholarship I think it’s a little bit different where you have to accept it by a given time, if not they’re not going to fund it,” Donaldson says.
Donaldson also clarified the differences between scholarships and financial aid. “For financial aid, that’s different because that’s government money that you’re applying for based on your financial status.” she adds. Make sure you sit down with your parents and discuss how taking a gap year may or may not affect your financial aid in the future.
5.The mental health break may work in your favor
The worst is over: The standardized tests and the stress of applying for college. If you really need the mental break to just relax and do absolutely nothing, Treat yo’self. It may be a whole year, but you can use the time to blow off steam.
You deserve a break before you're back in school. Over-heating and bombarding yourself with too much course work will not do you any good in the end, no matter how bad you want to graduate.
6. Applying to a gap year program is the best option
It's really easy to sit home and do nothing all year long, but what if you can join a program that will help you travel with a group of new friends? Gap year programs like Outward Bound help students engage in fun activities while also going through valuable learning experiences.
Although some programs may be expensive, these initiatives are often recommended by deans or college advisors. By doing these programs, you’re avoiding the potential gap years’ curse and falling into a routine of doing nothing with your year off.
7. Volunteer, work and travel while you can
If the gap year program is too expensive, other alternatives that can keep you busy during your year off can be volunteering for what you're passionate about, taking up a part-time job to help your parents pay your way through school and traveling a bit while staying on budget. Taking small road trips with friends can be fun without breaking bank. Try finding fun things to do on weekends a couple of hours away from your hometown.
Chelsea Jackson, a junior at Iowa State University, took a gap semester following her freshman year because of a unique experience offered to her as an illustrator for an archaeological excavation. “I think gap years/semester can be incredibly beneficial, because you can use them to supplement your college experience as you can use that time to get professional experience,” she says. Whether it’s working or traveling, you’re sure to grow and mature as a person throughout the year.
Doing something productive on your year off can be beneficial not only for you, but your resume as well.
Taking a gap year has its pros and cons. It’s important to know that you're absolutely positive you're making the right decision in taking a break. Try avoiding unnecessary stress by planning and organizing as much as you can before you start your new semester as a freshman.