5 Strategies for Applying to College After a Gap Year

Application Strategies
July 22, 2021
Applying to college after a gap year won't be a problem as long as you have a plan.

Taking a year away from school in between high school and college has become increasingly common, and that was even before a global pandemic forced many students to reconsider their college plans. Admissions officers know that students have plenty of valid reasons for taking a gap year, and typically don't count it against a student when considering their application. That said, applying to college after a gap year does require some extra planning. A solid gap year strategy can ensure you arrive at college refreshed and confident from an extra year of life and work experience. Here are five ways to maximize your gap year.

1. Plan Ahead. 

While there are circumstances that could force someone to take a gap year unexpectedly, most students are at least considering the possibility of a gap year when they start applying to colleges. If you think you're going to take a gap year, make it part of your application process. Call the admissions office at the colleges you're applying to and ask about gap years -- you can often simply defer your first year and enter school when your gap year has ended. Depending on the school, scholarships might be deferrable as well, or you may have to re-apply for them. But the important thing is to get as much information as possible so you know how your gap year will affect you and what steps you need to take to make both the gap year and your freshman year as smooth as possible.

2. Apply As If There Is No Gap Year. 

Even if you're 100 percent certain you're going to take a gap year, you should still go through the application process anyway. Partly this ties back to the first strategy we discussed above -- apply now, defer for a year and enjoy your gap year stress free. But it's also a good idea because your last year of high school surrounds you with the resources you need to apply to colleges. It's much easier to get recommendation letters, talk to guidance counselors, get transcripts, and study for college entrance exams when you're in high school. If you put off applying, you'll have to apply during your gap year, which means all of the sometimes complicated aspects of college applications will happen while you're doing gap year things. Presumably you're not taking a year off so you can spend it writing essays and tracking down letters of recommendation. And if your gap year takes you abroad, that adds a whole other layer of complication. Make sure to organize and file all those important documents so you can access them easily when your gap year ends.

3. Have a Reason -- Any Reason. 

There are hundreds of reasons to take a gap year. Some gap years are taken by necessity, like caring for a sick loved one, saving money for college expenses, or waiting out a deadly pandemic. You might choose to take a gap year because of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, like a chance for world travel or an internship that will give you career experience. You might just be unsure of what direction you want to take your life in, and want to use your gap year to explore some options and help you choose a major. It's even perfectly acceptable to take a gap year because you want a year off from doing schoolwork, so you can enter college reinvigorated and ready to take on any challenge! But whatever your reason, think carefully about what it is ahead of time, and make sure you use that year to accomplish whatever goals you set out for yourself. You don't need to write a novel or hike the Appalachian Trail during your gap year, but you should come out of it wiser, more experienced, and with a clearer idea of your life goals.

4. Enhance Your Apps. 

Here's a scenario that many students find themselves in -- you don't get accepted to you favorite college, but you do get accepted to your safety school. So you take a gap year, deferring entrance into the safety school. In the meantime, you can use your gap year to strengthen yourself as an applicant. For instance, you can retake the SAT or ACT and improve your score. You can use the life experience from your gap year to write impressive essays that will wow admissions officers. A year of work experience in a field related to your major, or time spent traveling abroad, can make you seem like a more valuable addition to a college's community of students, and turn those rejections into acceptances. 

5. Keep Calm and Carry On. 

Applying to college after a gap year can present some challenges. You'll have to apply again for federal financial aid, although if your family's financial situation hasn't drastically changed, you should receive a similar aid package. You may have to re-apply for some scholarships that don't allow deferral. But admissions officers generally don't hold a gap year against you when considering your application, especially if your gap year is well-planned and makes sense for you. And you won't "miss out" on college activities -- you'll still get to experience freshman dorms, homecoming games, final exams, and all the other delights of the college experience. You'll just be a year older and wiser, and that can make a big difference.

A gap year isn't the right choice for every student, but if circumstances lead you to take one, or you decide to take advantage of the flexibility and life experience a gap year can offer, then applying for college after a gap year won't present any major roadblocks. Just think things through, follow a solid gap year strategy, and go out and see the world!

If you need help developing your college application strategy, whether you're taking a gap year or diving right into college life, the team at WeAdmit is here to guide you. We offer free counseling sessions to answer any questions you have about college admissions, and deliver a personalized strategy to guide you to your perfect-fit college.



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