In what ways can taking a gap year be harmful to an applicant?
Gap years should not only be viewed as a means of enhancing one’s college application, but also — and more importantly — to have a period of time dedicated to meaningful out-of-classroom experiences that encourage personal growth. Not engaging in some sort of meaningful activity — be it work, volunteerism, cultural exchange, travel, or some other form of learning through doing can ultimately be detrimental to your college application. If you don’t want to go to college immediately, but you also don’t want to do anything else in the interim, I would not even consider that a gap year. I would call it time off. Conversely, a gap year should be considered “time on,” and you should be able to speak or write about it as such during the college application process.
If a student does not have a good plan or the plan does not include a significant amount of independent reading, it could make for a tough transition to college.
A gap year can be harmful if it is a year wasted. It is a chance to learn and grow not live at home, play video games and party.
If any of the following resulted:
You spent time in juvenile hall
You signed on as a ship’s mate & became violently ill with seasickness
You went to an arctic climate & wound up w/severe frostbite
You went to a jungle & caught some rare & horrible disease
You went to work in the inner city & became a crime victim – or worse
Or any number of other harmful results
If you take a year off from going to school, colleges want to see that you either had a good reason, or that you have something to show from your unstructured time.
If you did nothing for an entire year and simply enjoyed not being in school or went on vacation, colleges will not be impressed. This is not to say you cannot enjoy your time not spent in school, but a year away from school should still be a year of personal growth and productivity. Spending a month in Spain will not harm you, especially if you volunteered there, stayed in a homestay and learned the language or even just vacationed but spent the remaining eleven months, volunteering, working, or taking classes, but spending a month on vacation and then doing the same for the other eleven will not help you get into college.
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