Should You Delay College: Is a Gap Year A Good Idea?

Last updated: Jun 25, 2020

Members of the COVID Class of 2020 have already sacrificed prom, traditional graduation ceremonies, and other rites of passage on the altar of the novel coronavirus. Is freshman year next? The thought of one more milestone going up in smoke is enough to induce nausea. However, should you delay college: Is a gap year a good idea? We explore the pros and cons below.

What Is a Gap Year?

According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year is “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.” Many students use this time to travel, learn a language, get experience in their chosen fields, volunteer, or learn job skills.

Although traditional gap year activities are largely unavailable in 2020, an unusually high number of students are thinking about delaying college plans anyway. In a recent survey by the Art & Science Group, 16 percent of respondents say they will take a gap year due to COVID-19.

So, should YOU delay college? Before making a decision, you’ll need to gather some information.

Check Out Your College’s Gap Year Policy

See if your chosen college will allow you to defer your admission until next year. Though some schools encourage the time off, others may disallow gap years altogether, particularly now. You also might be required to submit a plan outlining what you will do with your gap year before the admissions office will consider a deferral request. 

If your college grants a deferral, you will not need to reapply for admission. However, you should read the conditions of your deferral carefully. Many colleges don’t allow students to defer admission and then take classes for credit elsewhere (such as a community college). If you forge ahead anyway, you may need to reapply for admission as a transfer student, and there is no guarantee that you or your credits will be accepted. 

If your chosen college doesn’t grant deferrals, but you still want to take a gap year, you’ll have two choices: Decline their offer of admission and reapply next year, or accept an offer of admission from another college that does grant deferrals. 

Two female students spend their gap year after high school removing litter from beaches

Consider the Pros of Taking a Gap Year

You’re Just as Likely to Attend College

Your parents may be concerned that you’ll never enroll in college if you take a gap year. Tell them not to fret. A Gap Year Association National Alumni survey revealed that 90 percent of students go on to enroll in a four-year institution within one year of completing their gap year. In addition, a gap year is tied to increases in college GPAs.

You Can Still Have a Meaningful Experience

Although travel and internship opportunities may be few and far between this fall, you can still have a meaningful gap year. Some companies are working to move their gap year programming online. For example, Year On is shifting to online coaching and programs and is working to set up remote internships. You could also consider COVID-19 related opportunities, like working for one of the contact-tracing programs being considered in some states.

You’ll Have Time to Regroup Financially

If you’re one of the many students whose families have been affected financially by the pandemic, taking a year off can give you some breathing room. By next year, you’ll have a clearer picture of what you can afford. If necessary, you can apply to colleges that are less expensive than your chosen school. You could also consider a 2+2 program that will allow you to earn an associate degree at a community college and guarantee admission to a four-year institution to complete your bachelor’s degree. Taking a year off will also give you an opportunity to work and save money for tuition.

You Can Build Your Résumé and Get Field Experience

Want to try on a career or volunteer? There are still plenty of things to do during a pandemic to explore career paths or gain experience that will look good on your résumé and grad school applications. 

You Can Take In-Person Classes

This spring, colleges hastily assembled online courses to ensure students could keep learning. They are not representative of the thoughtfully planned online courses colleges will offer this fall, however, if you learn better in person with a full complement of college resources nearby (think libraries, tutoring centers, etc.), delaying college for a year may be beneficial.

You’ll Still Get the Full College Experience

Dreaming of being in the stands at raucous football games, joining a sorority, or running for college counsel? Even if colleges resume in-person classes this fall, student activities likely won’t return that quickly. You can ensure you’ll experience all the on-campus excitement by starting college next year.

You’ll Avoid Health Concerns

Is the thought of living in a residence hall or attending class with many other students giving you the heebie-jeebies? Colleges are putting numerous precautions in place, but if you’re still concerned, taking a year off could mitigate the risks and help avoid interruptions to your college experience if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall.

You Can Take a Mental Health Break

These are trying times. With so many families facing financial hardships, health issues, and anxiety about the pandemic, you may not be in the best frame of mind to start college. That’s OK. A gap year will allow you the mental space to take care of yourself and your family and start fresh next year.

A student reviews his financial aid letter and calculates whether it's a good idea to delay college

Think About the Cons of Delaying College

Your Financial Aid Package May Be Different Next Year

If you’re granted a deferral, the financial aid package you’re offered next year might not be as generous as the one you were offered this year. In the same vein, if you apply to attend a less expensive school next year, your financial aid will likely differ.

You Might Be Competing with the Class of 2021

If your college didn’t offer a deferral and you have to reapply for admission, you’ll be competing with next year’s high school graduates for a limited number of spaces. 

You’ll Graduate a Year Later

By taking a gap year, you’ll graduate from college one year later than your peers. In addition, you’ll lose a year of earning a professional salary.

Options for Traditional Gap Year Activities Are Limited

If the gap year you envisioned includes a grand tour of Europe, an internship at a local business, or a service trip to teach underprivileged children in Central America, you’ll need to come up with a new plan. Typical gap year activities will likely be curtailed this year.

A female student uses her laptop to explore activities for a gap year after high school

In the end, deciding whether to delay college depends on your unique circumstances. Know the facts, weigh the pros and cons, and make the choice that’s right for you.

If you have questions about taking a gap year at USF or other enrollment concerns, the Office of Admissions is still available to answer your questions and provide support at admissions@usf.edu. We’ve also developed a toolkit for new students and parents to welcome them into the community and continue on the path to enrollment.