Should You Take a Gap Year Before Online College?

Should You Take a Gap Year Before Online College?

So you’re planning to enroll in online college, but you’re considering taking a gap year first? Great idea! A gap year can actually be extremely beneficial, especially for students who plan on attending college online.

Let’s face it, the last few years of high school did not go exactly the way you pictured it. Thanks to the global pandemic, many of you were forced to wrap up your high school education in online classes. So even if you plan to continue your online studies in college, unplugging for a year could pay dividends in the long run.

In fact, in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic, more students than ever before have used the year after high school graduation to step back, regroup, and pursue a few experiences outside of the (virtual) classroom.

A gap year also gives you a little more time to shop around for an excellent online college experience. Whatever you do in your gap year, make sure some of your time is spent researching online schools. Get started with a look at the Best Online Colleges.

Or read on to find out how you can make the most of your gap year.

student traveling during a gap year

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What Is a Gap Year?

The gap year is an academic break between secondary and post-secondary school. Students graduating from high school often use this time to pursue interesting opportunities or new experiences before embarking on a college education. Gap year experiences may include but are not limited to:

  • Work
  • Travel
  • Specialized research
  • Internships
  • Advanced study in math, science or the arts
  • Volunteering
  • Learning a New Language

You may design an independent gap year experience on your own or you may choose to participate in a more structured experience through a gap year organization.

You have plenty of freedom to use this time as you see fit. But you should also understand that “gap year” is not just a clever way of taking a vacation for an entire year. You can visit exotic beaches if you would like. You can check some cool experiences off of your bucket list. But technically, this is not a vacation. In order to call it a gap year:

  • You must have an actual plan for how to constructively spend your time away from school, and;
  • You must plan on returning to school following this year-long hiatus.

Worried about losing your academic motivation during your year off? Fear not. The Gap Year Association reports that 90% of students who take a gap year actually do enroll in college within the year.

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Why Take a Gap Year?

The best reason to take a gap year is to gain some perspective before taking the next step in your education. You have spent your entire life in school. Taking a year off can be a great way to clear your head and get a stronger sense of your own goals.

Research from the Gap Year Association reveals that students who begin college following a gap year routinely demonstrate greater maturity, growth, and preparedness for college than those who dive into college just months after high school graduation.

The Gap Year Association surveyed students who have taken advantage of the gap year. The three biggest benefits of the gap year, according to surveyed students, were that it:

  • gave me a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me;
  • gave me a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living; and
  • provided me with additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major.

These responses speak to the tremendous value of getting experiences outside of a formal educational setting. Once you do return to pursue your degree, you will be a slightly wiser and worldlier version of yourself.

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Who Should Consider a Gap Year?

Anyone can take a gap year, even those already pursuing a college degree. However, most gap year programs are targeted toward students transitioning from high school to college. Nevertheless, some programs still welcome adults and recent college graduates or “lifelong learners.”

While anyone can take a gap year, it can be particularly beneficial for:

  • Fresh high school graduates who want to explore themselves and their interests. Most high school students in their senior year have yet to decide what major to pursue in college; on the other hand, some high school students have lots of ideas and need more time and experience to know which interests them the most. Before deciding on a specific academic or career path, a gap year helps young people gain life experiences, explore several disciplines, and think about their interests and passions.
  • Young people who want to become independent. A gap year allows teenagers to manage their time and money, enhancing their decision-making skills. This recharges them and helps them return to their studies with a renewed focus and maturity.
  • People who are looking to experience new things. A gap year with new experiences offers opportunities to push one’s boundaries, take on intimidating tasks, and gain essential life lessons while engaging with other communities.
  • College students who want to enhance their network and meet new friends. Organizations for gap years can help link peers preparing for significant life changes, building a solid community of people with the same goals and interests.
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Pros of a Gap Year

There are several advantages to taking a gap year, both professionally and psychologically. The benefits of a gap year might change depending on how you use it. However, the following are some typical advantages when you use your gap year right:

You can use a gap year to advance your career.

One of the best ways to use your gap year is to get some real-world experience in an industry that you are actively considering for a career. For instance, if you plan to major in political science, try getting a job for a local campaign.

Thinking of a career in public service? Drop into city hall and ask if there is an office where you can apply to work. Interested in a hospitality career? Hotels and cruise-ships are always hiring support staff.

Remember, you are entry-level right now. But an entry-level job in a field of your choice is an amazing way to see what life is like on the inside. And while you are on the inside, make sure to network.

Build contacts, ask questions, learn everything you can about a career in the field. That knowledge will give you a huge advantage as you prepare to declare your college major down the road.

Not only that, but there are actually some schools and degree programs that award college credit for work experience.

It gives you more time to experience life.

If you are about to graduate high school and you feel like you have only seen the world through a screen, your gap year could be a great way to get out there and see the real thing. Go for a cross-country drive. Participate in an organized travel abroad program. Pick a destination based on your intended career, family background, or personal interest.

If money is an issue, pick destinations where you have friends or family. No matter where you go, as long as you keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open, you will learn and grow. You will experience new things. You will taste new things. You will see things that will change your perspective.

You can boost your resume using your newfound skills and knowledge.

Taking a gap year is a fantastic way to give yourself the gift of time—time to dive into unique experiences that make you different from the rest. These special experiences give gap year students great stories to share in job interviews or the college admissions process.

It’s an opportunity to explain why you decided on a gap year and tell an exciting tale about the enriching journey you went on during that time.

Furthermore, a gap year can help you improve your skills, making you more competitive in the college application process. Enhancing your people skills through cultural immersion or building resilience through volunteering adds to your unique set of skills.

Additionally, the relationships you forge during your gap year can prove invaluable when transitioning into the workforce. A diverse and extensive network amplifies your opportunities and makes you a more sought-after candidate in the eyes of potential employers.

So, when you decide to re-enter the educational arena after your gap year, you do so as an individual enriched by experiences, armed with a refined skill set, and bolstered by a network of like-minded individuals who recognize the unique value you bring.

These are all experiences that you can take with you into online college. These experiences will also better prepare you for some of the distinct responsibilities that come with online education.

Without the traditional oversight that occurs in a live classroom, it is up to you to manage your own time, find your own motivation, and organize your own responsibilities. Students who have a transformative experience before beginning college are often better prepared for the realities of personal independence that come with online learning.

Better preparation, organization, and discipline can help you preempt some of the pressures unique to online education. Still, if you do find that you are struggling with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, take advantage of the mental health support resources offered through your online program.

Just as is the case for students living on campus, it is extremely important that you do not neglect your mental health while getting your online education.

Once you are ready to start college, prepare yourself with a look at these 10 Tips for Online Education Beginners.

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Cons of a Gap Year

A gap year has a lot of benefits that will help anyone become more mentally prepared for college. But it’s not for everyone.

You should always consider the possible cons of taking a gap year to help you make a better decision. Consider your goals, circumstances, and interests. Here are some of the most common cons that comes in taking a gap year before college:

You may feel left out.

A gap year can be associated with various negative emotions, including loneliness, anxiety, isolation, homesickness, and culture shock. Because a gap year means you’ll live an entirely different life than your peers who decided to not postpone or delay their studies, you may feel excluded and left behind.

This feeling is quite normal. But this doesn’t mean that you’re really left out.

Make sure you contribute to the conversation and tell them what you’ve learned during your international travel or volunteer projects and your plans. It’s vital that you acknowledge your own achievements, too. Remember that taking a gap year is more challenging than some might think. It requires bravery, perseverance, and maturity.

You may experience overwhelming change.

You’ve spent months pouring your energy into schoolwork, which gives you the impression that academics are your only purpose. And in the middle of the school year, you decide to take a break. This will put you on a path that promises a significant change in your daily routine.

A gap year can cause a rollercoaster of emotions. This is especially true for students who lack planning in how they’ll use their gap year.

Adapting to such a change can be extremely difficult, especially after months of being ingrained in the patterns of academic life. It can be highly intimidating to think about navigating various unknown situations, leaving you uneasy and uncomfortable. Consider setting aside some time for self-adjustment during this transitional period as you become used to the novel lifestyle a gap year offers.

You can lose momentum.

The primary concern of parents and students about gap year is the possibility of losing momentum. There is a real concern that what was originally planned to be a one-year break may evolve into a lengthier break, raising questions about whether the student would return to college.

While this can be true, it’s important to understand that everyone’s experience with a gap year will be significantly different in terms of its duration and effects. Although there is a chance of delays, several advantages can put these worries at rest, like the possibility of personal development, an increase in drive, and the acquisition of priceless life experiences.

Students should have open discussions with their parents or other professionals to minimize the risk of losing momentum.

You can incur more student debt.

A gap year has another, less evident consequence. Your overall college expenses may increase because you’ll defer enrollment and graduate one year later than you would have otherwise. (Chances are that the cost of tuition—even for online learning—from 2023-2024 will be less than that for 2024-2025.) You’ll also be starting your profession a year later and postponing the income and perks that come with it.

On the other hand, you can work during your gap year, and the experiences you learn may prevent you from selecting the wrong major (and waste money on unnecessary classes) or help you obtain a better job after graduation.

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What Are Some Top Organized Gap Year Programs?

The Gap Year Association is an organization focused on advancing and encouraging constructive use of the gap year. The 501(c)3 nonprofit association is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the organization which sets standards and grants accreditation for formal gap year programs.

According to the Gap Year Association, we have seen their profound benefits on students from all backgrounds, and believe an intentional gap year can be part of the welfare for us, our nation, our neighbors, and our fellow global citizens.

If you are seeking out a structured gap year program, the Gap Year Association could be a great starting point. The Association identifies gap programs that have been evaluated for their quality and legitimacy. This includes internship opportunities, volunteering, travel, and a host of other life experiences.

Any programs listed in this index have been verified by the Gap Year Association. Notable accredited programs include:

Final Word: Gap Year Before Online College

Taking a gap year before going to online college provides you with some of the interpersonal experiences you may not otherwise have as an online student. While online education offers a number of clear benefits, including accessibility, affordability, and flexibility, there is no way to replace the dynamic interaction you get in a live classroom. There is also no way to replicate the social experience of living on campus.

This makes the gap year a great option for students who will be experiencing college life entirely online. Whether you choose to travel and engage with locals, participate in a gap year program where you experience communal living, or work as a counselor in a youth athletics program, your gap year can be an excellent way to meet new people, have a diverse set of social experiences, and even have a little fun.

Having a few of these experiences in the year after high school graduation can help offset some of the isolation you might feel as an online student.

Have you been waitlisted for online college? We share some actionable steps for you to take right now.

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