What You Need To Know When Applying to Colleges After a Gap Year
Gap years are becoming an increasingly popular and viable option for rising college students in the United States. Formerly more popular in Europe, the trend is now spreading across the U.S., fueled by the increased acceptance of deferred matriculation at many top schools along with increased visibility from high profile gap year students like former first daughter Malia Obama and Olympic athlete Katie Ledecky.
There are two primary routes to college following a gap year. Some students come to their gap year having already been accepted to college. These students simply defer their admission for a year while pursuing an approved independent gap year in the interim. Starting college then becomes as simple as sending a deposit and showing up for the fall term the following year.
The other route, though, is to delay college applications until the gap year or repeat them, if necessary. This is a common route taken by students who do not know if they want to attend college at all, or who do not get into a college that they want to attend and choose instead to take some time off before applying to colleges at a later date.
If this is the case for you, you will find that the college application process can be slightly more involved than it was in high school. While the procedure itself is no different, you will now need to apply without the crutch of a dedicated guidance counselor and without your day-to-day contact with invested and supportive high school teachers.
That doesn’t have to mean that your application will be any less strong, though. Instead, it means that you will likely need to take more initiative and think further in advance to complete your applications.
In this post, we outline some of the logistics involved in applying to college during a gap year and provide insight into how you can tackle them gracefully to gain acceptance to your top-choice colleges. To learn about four important logistical concerns of applying to college during your gap year, keep reading.
1. High School Records and Transcripts
Ideally, you will discuss your gap year with your guidance counselor before you graduate high school. In this case, your guidance counselor will know to keep your files handy for you so that nothing is lost or discarded. If you have not had this discussion before graduating, you should let your guidance counselor know as soon as possible over email or the phone that you’ll be applying to college after your gap year and will soon need access to these files.
Assuming you are only taking a year or possibly two off, the logistics of getting your records and transcripts from high school should be fairly simple. You will need to contact your high school guidance counselor to do so, and ideally you should initiate contact fairly early in the application process. If you are applying anywhere early decision, this means you should be in touch as soon as the school year starts. If you are applying regular decision, get in touch by October.
In most cases, your high school will still have your complete file several years after you graduate, but of course this is not always the case. Either way, you will need to find out early on what materials are on file and how to access them. With electronic files now being the norm, most schools can easily pull up copies of any transcripts or other materials that you might need. Some may even keep copies of teacher recommendations and the college essays you wrote during your senior year.
2. Teacher Recommendations
Teacher and guidance counselor recommendations are perhaps the most important part of your high school file that you will want to secure in advance. Recommendations that were written while you were still in high school are generally more descriptive, since they are written with you fresh in the teacher’s mind. If you have to go back after a year to get new recommendations, it’s unlikely that these rewritten versions will be as illustrative as those written during your high school years.
Your file at your high school may or may not still include the references you got from your teachers and/or your guidance counselor while you were a student. If it does include these recommendations, the guidance office can probably send them out for you along with your high school transcripts when you request them. If your file does not include references, it will be up to you to track down your teachers and ask if they have kept copies that they wouldn’t mind passing along to you again. If you’re in high school now and anticipating taking a gap year, you should consider holding on to any recommendations yourself so you don’t have to rely on your high school to retain them.
Alternatively, you may need to get new teacher recommendations. This could be the case if your relationships with teachers have changed. For example, you may have gotten to know another teacher better during your senior year who can now provide more comprehensive insight into what makes you a great college applicant.
Finally, consider including at least one recommendation from your gap year. This could be from a teacher, a supervisor, a mentor, or a boss. While these people will likely have only known you for a short period of time, it will be important for the admissions committee to get a sense of how productive and committed your gap year has been. If you took an extended gap year, you might include more recommendations from your gap year, but generally one recommendation from your gap year combined with recommendations from your high school teachers will present a well-rounded depiction of you as a student and as a community member.
3. Test Scores
Odds are that your test scores will still be valid after your gap year, but you’re not under any obligation to use them if you feel that you can perform better by retaking the tests.
To use your existing scores, they must be under five years old for the SAT and ACT, and under two years old for the TOEFL. You can request score reports by ordering them through the test websites’ online user portals, just as you would before your gap year.
You can also retake the tests at any point before you apply to colleges. You’ll need to think about this in advance if your gap year plans will have you traveling extensively. You will need to locate the closest testing center and ensure that the tests you’d like to take are available on days that you’ll be able to take them. Remember, there are SAT and ACT test centers available outside the U.S., but the costs associated with testing outside the country can sometimes be more than those at domestic test centers.
4. Accounting For Your Gap Year
If you’re submitting your college application during a gap year, it won’t be complete without a great explanation for why you chose to take a gap year and what you have gotten out of the experience. You can include this information as part of your regular application essays, or you could include it as additional information.
In either case, be certain to clearly explain the inspiration for your gap year and quantify what you have achieved so far during it. For example, if you’re taking a gap year to gain work experience and save money for college, include numbers to quantify how many hours you are working per week. While you generally wouldn’t put an exact number on your college savings, you can give a less specific description such as “I saved enough money to cover my room and board expenses throughout my first year of college.” If you are doing service work, include how many people you have impacted or another number that will signify the amount of work you’ve done.
If you are still only just getting started on your gap year when you write your essays, focus in large part on why you are taking a gap year. Then, elaborate on what your goals are, how you plan to achieve them, and any progress you’ve already made.
Applying to college while on a gap year definitely adds another level of complexity to the application process, but a little planning can go a long way. By starting the process early, initiating contact with your high school guidance counselor and teachers who wrote your recommendations, and planning how you’ll quantify your achievements during your gap year, you’ll make the process easier on yourself. Account for your high school transcripts, teacher recommendations, and standardized test scores in addition to writing a strong personal statement to reflect your decision, and you’ll be on the right track in no time.
If you’re considering a gap year, don’t let the complexity of college applications scare you off. Many colleges appreciate the gap year experience and recognize that students who take them may actually enter college with increased maturity and perspective.
To learn more about gap years or other important college admissions decisions, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.
For more information about gap years, see these CollegeVine posts:
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