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It’s right for Malia Obama, but is a gap year right for you?

Michigan students have an incredibly rich number of college choices, and thanks to Malia Obama, many more students are well aware of another choice for life after high school: the gap year.

Gap years have been around for years, but now that it’s a choice of the First Daughter, more students are wondering if this is a path they should take, too. Making a good decision about gap years begins with separating fact from fiction, so it’s important to know:

What is a gap year?

Students take a gap year when they’re interested in doing something other than going to school. Gap year plans vary widely from student to student, but they often include plans to travel, work, spend time with family, complete a focused volunteer activity, or take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime activity that just can’t wait until college is over.

Some of my students have taken gap years to teach English in another country, travel to Africa to help build and open a school, and improve their athletic skills in a semi-professional sports team. The choices truly are endless.

How does a student design a gap year?


Most students make plans for their gap year by the fall or early winter of their senior year in high school. Good research is key to a strong gap year experience. Students can discover gap year options with a simple online search with the key words “gap year,” or by using the resources of Websites like USA Gap Year Fairs, an organization that offers information sessions throughout the country about gap years, much like college fairs.

Do colleges like gap years?

Many colleges welcome students who delay the start of college for a year to do something else. If your college allows you to take a gap year, the process is simple. Apply to the college in fall of your senior year, as if you were going to go to college the following fall. Once you’re admitted, let the college know you’re requesting a gap year. They may ask you to complete a form describing your plans, and if approved, you’ll then be automatically enrolled to start college in the fall after your gap year is over.

Since not all colleges offer gap year, make sure to ask. Some colleges that don’t offer gap years may require you to reapply for admission to delay your college plans.

Are there limits on gap years?

Some colleges will require gap year students to submit an enrollment deposit, and others will freeze a student’s financial aid offer—so the student would have to pay for any tuition increase that occurs during the gap year. Most colleges won’t let a student take a gap year to go to another college, while some will allow this, if the student takes classes at a community college. It’s always good to check the policy of each college.

Are gap years only for wealthy students?

While some gap year options can be pricey, plans like work, volunteer activities, or caring for a loved one are available to everyone ‒ and even some of the price-based gap year options have scholarships.

A gap year can be a very wise choice for students who need more money for college. A year of full-time work can make attendance possible at some colleges, and it can reduce or eliminate the need for loans at many others. This option isn’t for everyone who needs cash for college, but gap year options are designed to meet the needs of individual students ‒ so think less about income, and more about personal growth.

Should all students take a gap year?

Just like there isn’t one college for all students, gap years aren’t for everyone. Some students have said “I should go right to college, because once I stop, I know I won’t want to go back.” Other students get to the end of senior year, only to find they really aren’t ready to leave high school ‒ so they think about taking a gap year.

Anxiety over high school graduation is understandable, but seniors have to leave high school no matter what their college plans are, and a gap year won’t resolve those feelings. Seniors who are unsure what to do this fall should seek a counselor’s help in sorting out their options, which could include a gap year. Seniors who want more time before high school is over should talk to a counselor about those feelings, and reconsider their fall plans once they know they’re ready to go.

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