Myth #1: You’ll never go back to college after a gap year
TL; DR: You’re incredibly likely to go to college after a gap year, and you’ll probably do better while you’re there.
This is the most common myth that gets spread around about the gap year, but it’s completely and utterly false. Instead, research shows that exactly the opposite is true: 90% of students attend college within six months of completing a gap year, according to data from the American Gap Association.
And once gappers go back to school, they often find a renewed interest in higher education, which leads to better grades and more focus on their chosen major. “We know that students who get to college after the gap year often have higher GPAs and academic performance. They end up being stronger students,” says Joe O’Shea, Director of Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement at Florida State University.
You’re also likely to walk away with some core competencies that are few and far between in your peers who’ve chosen to go straight through from high school. Gap year researchers Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson found that that these specific traits were higher in gap year students:
- Supporting and cooperating
- Leading and deciding
- Adapting and coping
So, you can tell anyone who asks that not only will you be more excited to get back to school after a gap year, you’ll also be a better student.
Myth #2: You have to be rich to take a gap year
TL; DR: Plenty of gap years can be done for little or no cost, if you know where to look.
When I talked to Joe, he said that this is one of the biggest and most prevailing myths he hears, and that it’s preventing students from all socioeconomic backgrounds from taking gap years. The truth, however, is that there are a number of resources available to students interested in taking a gap year.
Joe says one of the best resources in the country is the American Gap Association: “They are the leading voice for gap year education in America, and they serve to not only offer accreditation to gap year organizations, but to provide general information and resources to people interested in gap year.”
To illustrate Joe’s point, AGA-affiliated organizations gave over $3 million away in scholarship funding in 2013. The gap year programs are another good place to look for financial support, as plenty of them have scholarships in place to help lessen the burden on families. Others, like AmeriCorp and City Year offer stipends to students in exchange for a year of service.
In the coming weeks, watch this space, as we'll be talking more about how you can afford a gap year.
Myth #3: Only students who are slackers or “lost” take a gap year
TL; DR: All types of students take a gap year -- even those who’ve gone to Harvard.
Yesterday we wrote about how burnout is the number one reason that students take a gap year. But that doesn’t mean that those students lacked direction or were simply “checking out.” In fact, most gap year pros will tell you that taking a gap year is often the harder option to choose.
Gap year student Betsy Morgan didn’t ever think she’d take a gap year. She was admitted to Harvard and attended for the first few weeks before she fell sick with mono. When she had to leave campus due to her illness, she says she felt like she’d failed because “you either go to college or you’ve somehow messed up.”
But in the end, she says her gap year experience was the best she’s ever had. “I learned so much in terms of life experience—how to find my way when I was lost, how to get directions in an unfamiliar city or book a hostel. Those things seem inconsequential at the time, but it really added up to make me a more confident and together person. I learned in a way that was so different than how I’d always learned."
Betsy certainly wasn't unmotivated or unable to attend college--but she found through her gap experience that learning it a different way through a gap year was exactly what she needed to succeed in higher education.
Myth #4: Taking a gap year hurts your chances for college admission
TL; DR: Depends on the college, but every day, more are giving the gap year a thumbs up.
“Colleges are looking favorably at taking a gap year. A lot of people think it hurts their chances to get into college, and that's just not true,” says Ethan Knight, executive director at American Gap Association.
In the past, the stigma against gap years prevented some colleges from getting on board. However, you may be surprised to learn that Harvard has supported gap years for over 40 years, and medically-minded schools like Johns Hopkins report that roughly 50% of their students have taken at least one gap year.
Today, schools are changing their tune about allowing students to defer admissions in favor of a gap year. That’s because they’re witnessing what happens when students who take gap years come onto campus: they party less, focus more, get better grades and have an overall higher level of maturity and self-awareness. The shift is so profound that even the largest universities, including The Ohio State University, have changed their policies in recent years.
Vern Granger, Director of Admissions at OSU, says so many students have started to request deferrals that Granger’s team has had to put a formal process for evaluating deferrals in place in 2015. Bob Clagett, former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, is quoted as saying, “If colleges encouraged more male students to take a gap year, it would reduce a lot of the alcohol-related problems on campus.”
Florida State is now giving gappers scholarships to take time off, and other top notch colleges, including Tufts and Princeton, have started gap year programs of their own. Now, students admitted to those schools have the option of applying for a school-sponsored gap year before starting their freshman year.
There’s still a lot of work to do before gap years are the norm, but with the way the trend is heading, the future is looking bright.
We’re talking all things gap year here on the blog as we travel across the country over the next six weeks. Keep up with the journey and send your questions to us on Twitter.