Updated: Jan 19, 2020
One of the many concerns parents have when considering a gap year is that their student will "get behind".
A gap year taken between high school and college delays a student's entrance into a post-secondary institution. Many parents worry that this delay will be detrimental to their student. Is this a valid concern?
Yes, students may end up with less college credit than their peers who attend college straight out of high school, but they will gain life experience that can help them make more informed decisions about their futures and achieve their goals in a more efficient manner. In addition, many gap year programs offer college credit, anywhere from 12-24 credit hours. These credits can be transferred to a university and applied toward a degree program.
Some facts to consider
With “average” graduation rates now calculated at six years rather than four, students are taking longer to graduate. This is often due to the lack of clear goals. According to a report from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, almost a third of first-time college students change their majors at least once in the first three years of college. In addition, a 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 37.2 percent of college students change schools at least once within six years and, of these, 45 percent changed their institutions more than once.
When students change their major, or change schools, they often lose credit hours and need additional classes. As a result they take longer to graduate and end up spending more to earn their degree. If a gap year helps a student get to know themselves better and set clear goals for their future, it can save thousands of dollars and years of wasted time as they are able to enter college with a clearer focus. Therefore, it is unlikely that a gap year will put your student “behind.” It is more likely to provide direction that will help them earn their degree in a more efficient and timely manner.
Some will argue that college is a great place for students to "find themselves" - and if you have an unlimited budget, this may work. But with the cost of college rising at an alarming rate and student debt at an all time high, I believe that there are better ways to find direction. Stepping outside the traditional classroom has shown to be an effective way to reinvigorate a love for learning. Spending time in other cultures, learning new skills, and begin mentored by wise leaders can put students leaps and bounds ahead of their peers in ways that will accelerate their growth and make their college experience more meaningful.
So, will a gap year put a student behind? I don't think so. In fact, I believe it will put them ahead of their peers in ways that really matter.
College credit in high school
If you are worried about getting behind by taking a gap year, why not “get ahead” by earning college credit while still in high school? Whether you do this through dual enrollment, CLEP testing, AP exams or other options, you can earn up to 60 hours of credit, which equals two years of school! To learn more about this option, I highly recommend Jennifer Cook-DeRosa’s excellent book Homeschooling for College Credit. Even if you aren’t homeschooling throughout high school, the book illustrates the many ways you can maximize high school years to earn college credit before high school graduation.<