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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Tracewell

Why a gap year suddenly makes sense

Are you about to graduate and considering taking this next academic year off? We get it.

With COVID-19 disrupting the work of millions of Americans, many parents can no longer help their children with college costs as planned, and even if they can, what will you be getting? Most college campuses are closed indefinitely, a reality that might continue into the next academic year. If you’re less than thrilled about the potential of spending university tuition on a handful of online courses, you’re not alone. Because the traditional college experience you’ve been hoping for isn’t guaranteed next year, you may want to consider deferring your college acceptance and taking a gap year, which can provide some new direction and huge personal growth. We’ll talk about both in today’s post!

Gap Year

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term gap year? For most people, it’s travel. It’s true that many people explore a new part of the world during their gap year experiences, but this opportunity is about so much more than going abroad, and thank goodness that’s the case since traveling seems more unlikely than living on a college campus this fall. Whether at home or across the world, the essential purpose of a gap year is to try new things.

Taking some time off before college to break out of your comfort zone can lead to rich experiences, a deeper knowledge of self, and a better, more focused collegiate career.

Because many gap year opportunities will be affected by the impacts of COVID-19, the traditional gap year resources we love to share with students need to be adjusted to meet our new normal. Social distancing, travel bans, work closures, etcetera will require a more creative approach. Instead of backpacking in Europe or teaching English in Africa, you may be doing one of these close-to-home options:

But what if COVID-19 restrictions get eased or lifted? We hope that’s the case and encourage you to check out some of these gap year resources for a more traditional experience, just in case:


A deferral is when you apply to a college/university program but decide to take an extended amount of time off before returning to the program. With the traditional May 1 college acceptance deadline just a week away, you need to make some quick decisions, and we know that you’re weighing a lot more factors now than perhaps you were a few months ago.

You need to get approval from your college, so reach out immediately to the college admissions office if you’re considering taking a deferral this year. Also keep in mind that while admissions can be deferred, financial aid cannot, so you’ll need to reapply for aid.

An alternative to applying for a deferral is to simply decline any offers of admission and reapply to college next year. However, this may impact your freshman status and access to certain scholarships, so please discuss your options with the respective college admissions offices.

How to Defer College

  • Apply to college before you take a gap year.

  • Get accepted and confirm that you will attend.

  • Send a letter to the college's director of admissions and outline what you plan to do on your gap year / gap semester.

  • The admissions committee will evaluate the letter and grant / deny the deferral.

  • Send deferral letters between April and mid-June.

Keep in mind that each college and university is different. The American Gap Association has collected informal information on the specific deferral process at hundreds of American colleges and universities to help you, but contact your specific college or university for the most updated policies and procedures.

Check with your college or university to see if there is any potential for gaining college credit for your gap year activities. It is rare that this is the case, but it’s worth asking. If you enroll in another school for classes during your gap year, you might have to reenroll in your college/university as a transfer student -- definitely ask your admissions office about their specific policies.

Gap Year Goal

No matter what decision you make, it's important to have a gap year goal(s). The year you take off from formal academic studies can easily be frittered away and you're left wondering what you actually did. Like how right now most people don't even know what day it is!

Set aside a chunk of time to reflect on what you hope to gain during this coming year and write out some goals. Be as specific as possible! What skills do you hope to gain? What service is most important to you? What careers would you like to explore? Do you want to continue adding to your knowledge of an area of study you already like or do you want to dive into something entirely different? Reflect, write, and revisit your goals often — and revise as needed!

Nothing in life is static, and the important thing is to be mindful of the process as you plan your potential gap year — carpe diem!

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