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Common Gap Year Misconceptions (And Why They Aren’t True)

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EF Gap Year

Guided Exploration walking tour through Europe on a gap year
  • Publish Date:June 26th, 2023

There's a lot to consider when it comes to taking a gap—and with that, a lot of apprehension, concern, and misinformation. At EF Gap Year, we've seen firsthand the lifelong growth that follows taking a gap, which is why we're here to debunk some of the most common gap year misconceptions.

Whether you’re a parent hesitant to send your student on a gap year or a student considering an EF Gap program, here are common gap year misconceptions and reasons why you shouldn't worry.

The most common gap year myths

1. Taking a gap will be too expensive.

By planning ahead, you can be intentional about carving out time for yourself to have a life-changing international experience—and, like anything in life, a little preparation goes a long way. At EF, our terrific team of Gap Year Consultants work with students a year or two in advance so they can establish an interest-free payment plan.

We can also advise on ways to make a gap work for you and your family, such as earning college credits through our partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, which can help you stay on track with your studies; EF Gap Year program students can earn up to 15 college credits, while Semester and Short-Term program participants are eligible to earn up to 12 credits.

And, while it is true that some gap year programs are costly, this would be similar to rejecting the idea of college completely due to the “sticker -shock” of certain private universities. Many people who choose to take a gap don't go on structured programs like ours, and those who do may be eligible for scholarships and payment plans, just like in college. A 2016 survey by the Gap Year Association shows that “in 2016, Gap Year Association members and provisional members gave away a combined total of more than $4,200,000 in scholarships and needs-based grants.”

In addition to scholarship opportunities, many gap students add a work component to their gap year plans to help pay for travel. Working during a gap year teaches responsibility, budgeting, and helps develop a work ethic before entering college.

2. A gap year is just a way to delay responsibility.

This is a common gap year myth—however, in addition to the tremendous personal growth students undergo during a gap, a gap can also be viewed as an investment in their academic and professional futures. According to a recent study by Milkround, “88% of gap year graduates report that their gap year had significantly added to their employability.”

When applying for internships and entering the job market, your résumé will stand out—and so will your soft skills, like conflict resolution, time management, and perseverance.

There's not one “perfect” gap year path, so it’s always a good idea to do research and develop a realistic budget; however, a gap year doesn’t have to be expensive to be life changing. The most important part of a gap year is personal growth, not cost.

3. Students who take a gap never go (back) to college.

Another common gap year misconception is students who take a gap will not go (back) to college, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Karl Haigler, co-author of the book The Gap Year Advantage (2005) states, “Nine out of 10 students returned to college within a year, and 60% reported the time off had either inspired or confirmed their choice of career or academic major.”

After having a year to discover what their passions are and hone their skills, it makes sense that gap students are more engaged in the classroom. Aliza Goldberg, who spent her gap year in Vietnam before studying at Barnard College, stated in a 2010 Education Week article, “A year ago, I thought I would double-major in archaeology and art history with a minor in Italian... now, I want to major in everything. The majority of my schedule was influenced by my gap year. I’m excited to see how they all meld together when I declare my major at the end of next year.” A gap year gives academic motivation to those who feel burnout from high school while at the same time helping them enter college with a wealth of real-world experiences.

In fact, for high school seniors planning a gap year, it’s common practice to apply to a college, get accepted, and then defer admission for a semester or year; doing this alleviates the stress of having to worry about the application process during your gap. That said, applying to college during a gap is possible, too! Just make sure to ask for your recommendations early, while your accomplishments are still top of mind for teachers and counselors.

4. Students who take a gap fall behind their peers academically.

Falling behind is a common gap year myth, but the reality is, students who take gap years often thrive once they get back to an academic setting! Even colleges are noticing this trend: “Several studies show that students who take a gap year end up doing better than their non-gap year classmates. At Middlebury College in Vermont, for example, this was true even when controlling the academic credentials that gap year students brought with them from their high schools,” said Robert Clagett, Former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College. Clagett also adds, “The positive effect lasts over all four years.”

While it’s a common gap year myth, the truth is, you won’t fall behind academically from taking a gap—in fact, the data suggests gap graduates might be one of the most successful students on campus. It’s proven that students who take a gap return to the classroom reenergized and eager to learn; this can probably be attributed to the experiential learning that defines many gap experiences. Gap participants are also more likely to engage in leadership positions on campus and contribute to the overall community.

5. What about FOMO?

Students who take gap years often experience a little FOMO when their friends depart for school and post their first photos, but don’t worry: it doesn't last. It's hard to think you're missing out when you're traveling the world and making new friends! Adjusting to college can be hard, just like taking the road less traveled: reminding yourself that social media is a highlight reel can help you remember that everyone is experiencing the highs and lows of their chosen path.

Grant Stievater, who spent a semester of his gap year in Cuba and now attends Fairfield University, also downplays this concern: “I have described my gap year to many different people, and most of them had never heard of a gap year. Once I describe how I spent my time, the comments are almost uniformly, ‘I could have definitely benefited from a gap year,’ or ‘I had no idea that was even an option, I’m a little jealous.’ I haven’t been asked the question, ‘Don’t you regret not going to college at the same time as your friends?’”

It might be a struggle to view the “big-picture” at first, but in the long-run, the benefits of a gap year far outweigh the costs.

Still worried about gap year misconceptions?

Connect with a Gap Year Consultant to learn more about our suite of customizable, global gap programs.

EF Gap Year

Hi there! We're EF Gap Year. We believe that travel helps you become your best self. We love long trips abroad, living vicariously through our students' adventures, and writing punny Instagram captions.

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