Should I Take a Year Off From College?
There’s no denying it: College is a long, hard marathon. If you’re shooting for a bachelor’s degree, you likely have four years of full-time study before you have your degree in hand. The problem is that four years can be a long time to focus exclusively on school.
For some students, a year off offers a chance to step outside academia and back into the “real world,” but what are the potential risks and benefits of taking a year off from college?
Pros of Taking a Year off From College
If you’re thinking about taking a year off, you probably have a good reason, like trying to save money, taking a mental health break, or traveling. Taking a year off from college can have some serious benefits. For some students, a year off is just what is needed to hit reset and return to education refreshed, energized and ready to learn. Here are some common reasons for taking a break.
Potential Money Savings
Perhaps one of the most common reasons for taking time off from college is to manage the rising costs of higher education. According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees for a four-year college as an in-state student at a public university during the 2019-20 school year was $10,440 .
Out-of-state students attending a public four-year college, on the other hand, can expect to pay around $26,820 in tuition and fees. And to attend a private four-year institution, you’re looking at around $36,880 . While many students take out student loans to help cover the expense, the cost of college can be overwhelming, and taking a year off could offer you a chance to save up.
Students who take a year off to work might be able to save money by eliminating college costs while increasing their income by working. Saving up money to pay for their tuition and educational costs could mean less student debt by the time graduation rolls around.
Of course, taking a year off for financial reasons might not always be your first choice. If you’re struggling to pay for college costs, even after federal student aid, a private student loan could help fill in the gaps and keep you in school.
A Hiatus for Health
Another common reason that students take a year off is mental or physical health. If you’re struck with a bad bout of mono at the end of your sophomore year, you might find that you’d rather spend a semester recovering at home rather than trying to manage your fever in between English Literature tests and chem finals.
The same is true when it comes to mental health. Some students who are struggling with mental health issues may decide to take a year off from college to recover. According to PsychCentral , “If the idea of studying gives you a panic attack; if the thought of going to the library makes you so depressed you can’t leave your room; if you get no joy out of reading the materials or listening to the lectures but only feel scared, anxious, or generally irritable, you may be in no shape to take on school for now.”
Taking a year off to take care of yourself could mean that you’re ready to come back to school stronger than ever.
An Education Through Exploration
More and more students are following in the footsteps of former first daughter Malia Obama and taking a year off before college to explore the world through travel.
But while some students prefer to see the sites prior to freshman orientation, plenty of students are figuring out how to take a year off during college for a gap year, and creating those meaningful experiences outside of the classroom.
When you take a year off to travel, you have an opportunity to broaden your horizons and receive a different type of education in how to be a citizen of the world. Whether you plan to teach English abroad, join a farming collective on a remote island, or just see the sights as you backpack through Europe, a gap year in the middle of college can help relieve some of the pressure of school while giving you the experience of a lifetime.
Cons of Taking a Year off From College
We’d love to tell you that taking a year off from college is all padding your bank account or jet setting from island to island, but the truth is that taking a year off from college can have some serious downsides, too.
Where’s the Finish Line?
If you take time off from school, there is always a risk that you won’t return. Whether you decide remaining in the job market is more lucrative or just aren’t sure what you want to major in, some students who plan on taking just one year off end up staying away from higher education for longer than expected.
This can be a serious diversion—after all, studies show that workers who earned a bachelor’s degree earn more than workers with only a high school diploma.
According to a 2019 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York , workers with a bachelor’s degree earned about $78,000 annually, while workers who only had a high school diploma earned about $45,000 annually.
This means that if you get that bachelor’s degree, you may be setting yourself up for about a $30,000 yearly premium compared to what you would make without a degree. That’s nearly a 75% increase!
If taking a year off in the middle of college will put your degree at risk, it might be worth it to think twice before withdrawing from classes.
Early Loan Repayment Risk
If you have student loans, taking a year off could mean that you have to start making payments on those loans earlier than expected. When it comes to federal student loans (and most private student loans), you’ll need to start making payments if you fall below half-time enrollment.
This means that taking a year off could mean that while you won’t need to make tuition payments, you could be stuck making monthly loan payments instead.
While some federal loans like Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a six-month grace period before you have to start making payments, others—like PLUS Loans and most private loans—require you to start making payments right away.
Covering College Costs
If you’re considering taking a year off from college because you’re having trouble paying for your educational costs, you may want to consider a private student loan instead. If you’ve exhausted your federal student aid options, a private student loan may be able to help eligible students cover excess costs not covered by federal aid.
How does a private student loan work? Private student loans are offered by private banks and lenders, which typically offer different interest rates and repayment terms than federal student loans, which are offered by the federal government.
This means that private student loans are not eligible for federal student loan repayment programs like income-driven repayment plans or public service loan forgiveness.
But for students who meet eligibility requirements, such as maintaining at least half-time enrollment at an eligible institution among other things, private student loans can be the difference between leaving school and finishing their degree.
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