New Type of Gap Year Student: College Transfers

Most people think of Gap Year students as high school seniors taking a year off before starting college. But this isn’t the whole story. Lately, we’ve been seeing a greater number of college students taking a Gap Year, especially those in the process of transferring schools. This is encouraging, because so many students would benefit from taking more time to mature and find the “right fit” college experience before stepping foot on campus. If students end up taking this time while in college, nothing wrong with that!

Some of our high school counselor contacts tell us they’ve seen more students than in the past contact them for assistance in the transfer process, e.g., to submit transcripts and teacher recommendations to schools. After having only a handful of college students doing a Gap Year up to now, 15% of our students at Gap Year Solutions are college transfers this year. And my own son combined a Gap Year with the college transfer process in 2022 (more on this below).

Students have always transferred colleges. It is fairly well known that 30%+ of college first year students do not return to their original school. Many of these students transfer colleges. Now, more students seem to be not just immediately starting at a new school, but rather taking time off after leaving their first college or university. Awareness of the Gap Year option is higher than ever, and transfers want to make sure that the new college they’re going to is a better fit since they now know more. College costs too much now for students to stay if they’re really unhappy. They want the right majors to match their interests. A Gap Year gives them the opportunity to be more thoughtful while going through the college transfer process.

A Gap Year after a student has already started college can also be a different experience. They are more mature with more life experience and time spent living independently. Some of my college age students are almost 20 years old. College students – having already spent some time on campus – can often more easily identify what they want to do (and don’t want to do) during a Gap semester or year. They may have a better idea of a major, and want to test this out in the real world before heading back to college.

As a result I’m seeing an increased interest in internships, including international ones. These are a great way to see another part of the world combined with exploring a profession. Several organizations exist to place students with opportunities outside the U.S., and often include housing. I spoke with three of these companies recently, and all said they are busier than ever.  College transfer students will often consider this international internship their study abroad time, so when they get to their new campus they can fully involve themselves in academics and activities and not worry immediately about having to plan their junior year abroad. (Shameless plug: Gap Year Solutions places students at internships within the U.S. We refer students to other companies for international internship placements.)

Unlike Gap Year students who are entering college for the first time, transfers are often allowed to count community college or extension school classes towards required credits for graduation (it is important to understand the policies of individual colleges and universities – some are very particular about what outside classes count for credit). Students take classes to keep up study habits and academic skills, raise GPA and/or get required gen ed classes out of the way so they can focus more on electives and classes that interest them when they return. When permitted, this has the benefit of enabling students to accumulate enough credits to graduate close to their original graduation date – which can save lots of tuition at the higher priced college or university!

(Note: not all college students taking a Gap Year end up transferring. Some take a Leave of Absence and end up returning to their original school, reinvigorated with a renewed sense of purpose.)

I mentioned my own son at the top of this post. After one semester he realized that his “dream school”, a small southern college at which Greek life played a bigger role than he anticipated, wasn’t actually the right fit for him. He took a Leave of Absence and went to Spain for a semester, where he focused on learning the culture and advancing his language skills. After returning, he worked two jobs, taught himself a new sport, and took enough classes so that he’s on track to graduate on his original timing. He is so grateful for his Gap time and has a much better idea of what he wants out of his new school’s academics and campus life!

The Gap Year movement is helping all students to realize there is more than one way to receive an education. I applaud those who embrace what is truly important to them and choose to their own path forward.

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