the gap year myth

The Gap Year Fallacy

Michael Lux Blog, Student Loans 0 Comments

Everyone has heard the old adage: if you take a year off of school, you will never go back.  This bit of advice is doled out each year to high schoolers, already under tremendous pressure to go to college.

The theory behind this advice is that college delayers will never actually attend school because they will be subjected to life’s many “distractions” and never attend.

The problem with this advice is the underlying assumption… that everyone should go to college.  Mike Rowe, former host of Dirty Jobs, famously called this the worst advice in the history of the world.  All too often recent high school grads are viewed as failures because they opted for pursuing a trade rather than further their eduction.  For many, going this route is not only a smart life decision but also a shrewd financial decision.

What is the problem with going to school right away?

One of the biggest mistakes a young person can make is to spend money on an education that doesn’t benefit them.  Attending a year or two of school, then dropping out can leave someone with student debt that takes decades to pay off.  Even if they declare bankruptcy, the student loans will usually linger on.  They leave school burdened by debt like many others, but often lacking the skills or resources to earn enough money to manage the debt.

People guiding recent grads would be wise to remember that going to college and graduating from college are two very different things.  The only thing they have in common is that both are expensive and often result in large student loans.

Why wait a year?

Even if the student does ultimately graduate from school, waiting a year still might be for the best.  The time away from the classroom affords the opportunity to appreciate educational opportunities.  It also allows for saving money that could prevent unnecessary student loan debt.  Another benefit is the fact that people who take a year off have time to bolster their resume in an attempt to become a better candidate for both admissions and scholarships.

The idea that an 18-year-old should have even an inkling of an idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives is absurd.  While there are certainly individuals who know exactly what they want to accomplish out of life, these are the exception, not the rule.

Taking a bit of time to evaluate one’s options, especially in the face of major uncertainty, is something that should be encouraged, not derided.  If a young person chooses this path, they should be guided to explore the many options before them, and advised to do their best to save money for whatever comes next.