Special Circumstances

Should You Take a Year Off Before or During College?

If you are just out of high school, even if you have just completed an unsuccessful year at college, you should know: College right out of high school is not for everyone.

 Many students really have no idea what they want to do with their life or their career. They are often following parent and/or community expectations more than their hearts. Some students are burnt out with studying or chasing the resume, and they may need time to refresh. There is nothing wrong with experiencing life before college as long as you make it a worthy experience!

A year off can actually help you appreciate your educational experience later. Time out of school and away from parents, living on your own, can also help you understand better the cost of an education.

So what can you do during your gap year?


Of course, there is work. You must realize jobs you get will not be the best paying or the most rewarding, but work is work—an experience. What you should not do is stay at home and work at the local mall or MacDonald’s. Rather, take a food service job in a seasonal place away from your home. Check government work sites (www.students.gov) to see if you could be a gofer or an intern in Washington, D.C. You can also check with your state Congress people for work opportunities in their offices. Check out sites that offer work abroad (www.jobabroad.com). And, think about apprenticeships (www.apprenticeships.org) in work areas you have a vague interest in and want to check out.

Gap year Programs

Of course, there are other ways to spend a year learning about yourself.


Travel is great, whether you see your country or the world. You could certainly do a walking tour in Vietnam or backpack through Europe. Check out these sites to get started:

  • www.eurobike.com
  • www.OutwardBoundWilderness.org
  • www.coloradomtn.edu

But, you may not have enough money for traveling, so travel by volunteering. These kinds of opportunities not only provide rewarding experiences but are also very good for your future resume. Explore these organizations for starters:

  • Peace Corps – www.spw.org
  • Americorps *VISTA – www.americorps.org

If you want to earn some credits and maybe be eligible for a scholarship or financial aid there is also the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) – www.nols.edu.

College is not the only answer, nor the only choice, right out of high school. Other experiences can be as worthwhile and perhaps even prepare you better for college later on.

A Word to the Wise: It’s probably best, if you are taking a year off after high school, to apply your senior year and have an acceptance to college which you defer. Then, you can really take your year off; otherwise, half of that year away from school will be taken up with applications! With deferral in hand, school is out of mind, and once your year is over, you will be able to make a good decision without stress and pressure.