Gap Years and College Applications
Gap Years and College Applications
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Students planning on taking a gap year before continuing their studies can either apply for college while they are completing their senior years of high school or apply for college during their gap years. Students who choose to apply for college during high school will have to talk to their prospective institution about deferring enrollment until after their gap year. Unless the point of the gap year is to take courses and improve grades to increase the chances of acceptance to an institution, applying during high school will simplify the process.

Applying to College in High School

While still in high school, students have the resources of their guidance counselor, teachers, and coaches. If they choose to wait a year to apply, they will no longer be able to ask guidance counselors any admissions questions they might have during the process. They also risk teachers and coaches saying no to writing letters of recommendation if they feel that too much time has passed. There’s a peer pressure aspect to it as well; students are more likely to complete their application materials and submit applications if everyone else is doing it too. Applying to college before a gap year simplifies the admissions process.

What is deferring admission?

Deferring is the process by which you delay your enrollment at an institution by a period of time, typically a year. Due to the complex nature of financial aid and on-campus housing, you may be unable to defer for only a semester or a quarter. The American Gap Association maintains a list of deferral policies at some universities, but it is by no means complete. If your prospective institution is not on the list, contact the office of admissions to learn more about their deferral policy.

To defer, you must first apply and be admitted into a school, after which you can submit a letter to the admissions office or dean of students explaining that you wish to take a gap year, what you plan on doing, and why you want to take time off before beginning school. Colleges do not have to grant your request for a deferral, but often they will, especially if you can provided a detailed outline of what you will be doing during your time off. You may be asked to submit a deposit to reserve your place in the school’s next graduating class. Keep in mind, there may be a deadline by which your deferral must be requested.

If you plan on taking classes part-time during your gap year, you need to be completely upfront with the school at which you are trying to defer admission. It may be against their policy to grant you admission as a first-year student if you already have college credit; you may have to reapply as a transfer student. Check with your school’s admissions office for more detailed information about the deferment process.

How does deferring affect my financial aid package?

If you have received an offer for federal or institutional financial aid, there is no guarantee that the same amount of money will be available for you when you actually enroll. Financial aid is distributed based on your and your family’s financial situation, which constantly fluctuates. Some schools will hold your institutional scholarship award and recalculate the rest of your package during your gap year, while others will require you to completely reapply for financial aid. Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year is in your best interest; it is released on October 1.

You complete the FAFSA by inputting information about your and your parents’ income; this information is passed along to your school. After your institution receives your FAFSA results, it will create a financial aid package for you, detailing the amount of money that you qualify for in grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. Your school may have a separate financial aid application; ask the financial aid office or the admissions office if you will have to resubmit that one as well. You can find more information about affording higher education here.

Applying to College During a Gap Year

Waiting to apply to college (or reapplying to college next year) is an option that appeals to students who are undecided about their prospective schools and those who want to use their gap years to become more competitive applicants for the next round of applications. While applying to college in high school will make your gap year less stressful, it’s okay if you decide to apply later.

How do I simplify my college applications if I decide to apply during my gap year?

If a student elects to wait until a gap year to apply for college, organization and timing are key. A student spends their gap year exploring the Amazon is going to have a lot of trouble submitting an application from the rainforest. An AmeriCorps volunteer or someone on a program with regular internet access is going to have more luck. This is where timing comes in. Ask teachers for recommendations before leaving town, keep a notebook full of ideas for personal essays and draft them on paper if necessary, and maintain a list of everything required for each application (and the deadlines) to stay on track.

You should also familiarize yourself with the process of applying to college so that there’ll be no surprises when you’re filling out applications. You can learn about college applications here.

What if my gap year is a necessity? I applied to colleges in high school but didn’t get in anywhere.

Though it can be heartbreaking to receive no offers of admission from the schools to which you’ve applied, you are not out of options. Talk to your high school counselor and check the College Openings Update to see if there are any colleges that still have openings for their incoming freshman class. If you’re not interested in any of those schools, you can consider taking a gap year and reapplying for college in the fall. You can use the extra time to boost your résumé and focus on becoming a more competitive applicant for the next round of applications.

If you can afford one, gap year program application deadlines vary by program. You may still have time, particularly if you look for semester-long programs that start in the winter. What you don’t want to do is spend your gap year not doing anything meaningful. This will reflect poorly on future college applications.

Page last updated: 09/2018