Is your high school student considering taking a gap year before attending college? Here’s what students and parents need to know.
How to Arrange for a Gap Year
1. Don’t put the college application process on hold!
Experts recommend students apply to college as usual during senior year, secure a spot, pay a deposit, and then defer their admission rather than wait to apply to college during their gap year. “It’s much easier to get the college applications done while you’re still in school and have a high school counselor to help,” says Nancy Beane, associate director of college counseling at The Westminster School in Atlanta, and past president of National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
2. Work with admissions office to get deferral.
Many institutions allow a gap-year deferral, but not every school has a formal procedure, so students will need to check with their college’s admissions office, says Beane. Often, students will need to provide a written request and possibly an outlined plan for the year. The Gap Year Association offers a list of colleges and gap year policies but be sure to call your college for specific requirements and deadlines.
If a college doesn’t allow a deferral, students will need to reapply. They should talk with an admissions counselor at their college about the process. Can students wait to apply until after high school graduation? Some do, but Beane cautions that managing application logistics can be trickier, particularly if the student is traveling abroad.
A note of caution: If students rethink their college choices during their gap year, they will lose any non-refundable deposit and scholarship money awarded at their first college.
3. Make sure you discuss what will happen to financial aid or scholarships.
One of the biggest considerations is whether scholarships will be held for a student’s return to campus. Every college is different, and you’ll need to ask. Some institutions do hold scholarships, but don’t assume! Always check.
Need-based financial aid must be re-evaluated after the gap year. During the gap year, families will file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and for some schools, the CSS Profile, both annual forms. If family finances remain similar, financial aid probably won’t change but ask the financial aid office about what to expect, says Jill Desjean, policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).
If a gap year program offers college credit, be sure to ask whether the credits will affect any scholarships being held.
The bottom line? Positive outcomes can outweigh the potential wrinkles as long as you do your homework to prevent any unwelcome surprises.