Question: If I commit to a college and then take a gap year, can I still apply to other schools? I got denied or waitlisted at all my top universities. So now I am deciding between Boston College and Northeastern University. I know they're both great schools but I'm having a hard time getting excited about either one. So I'm thinking of putting down a deposit at one of those two and then taking a gap year. During my gap year, I will apply to some new colleges and definitely reapply to a school that waitlisted me that I especially like. (On my new application I can make a stronger case for why it's the perfect fit for me.) But one of my friends, who was a senior last year, decided to take a gap year after committing to a college, and that college made him sign a statement saying that, if he applied anywhere else, he would have to give up his place. Do all colleges do that? If so, there's really not any point in putting down a deposit since I'm sure I will apply to some other schools, even though I would also worry about missing out on BC or Northeastern. A lot of people have told me how lucky I am to have those choices, so I really don't want to mess that up, in case I get rejected next year too.
“The Dean" is annoyed by countless admission practices and one of them is this policy you've just described. It's when a college accepts a deposit from a gap-year student and then also extracts a promise that the student will not apply elsewhere during the year off. Many admission officials are quick to sing the praises of the gap-year concept, noting that their applicants who spend time away from school often return more mature and focused than the typical freshman. So can't these folks realize that the broadening qualities of the gap-year experience may lead teenagers to new interests and thus to new campuses? The 18-year-old who wanted a small liberal arts college near home may find that, as a 19-year-old who's sheared sheep in Australia or taught toddlers in Chicago, those priorities … and plans … have dramatically changed.
Two colleges that blipped on my radar screen during recent gap-year discussions, Middlebury and Yale, both demand a signed commitment from prospective gappers. The majority of colleges, however, do not. And, luckily for you, neither BC nor Northeastern will require you to pledge any oath of loyalty. You will, however, need to pay an enrollment deposit ($500-$600) and expect to lose it if you eventually matriculate elsewhere.
I wish you well in your quest to find an alma mater that excites you. However, you may discover that, after a year outside of the classroom, you'll be eager to return … perhaps even to one of the places that has already welcomed you.