Is Gap Year a "Very Bad" Idea?

Question: So College Apps are due soon and I honestly have no idea where I want to go or what I want to be. My grade and ACT/SAT scores are very good but I was thinking of taking a year off between HS and college before applying. My mom says its a terrible idea since colleges think it's bad but I wasn't going to waste it. I was hoping to use the free time to maybe take some classes, tour some colleges, do volunteer work, Save up some money, etc. Just do something productive without the pressure of school and grades. Then I wouldn't have to rush my college apps for schools and majors I'm not even sure I want to go into. I could maybe improve my SAT and ACT scores more by taking them again. I didn't take the SAT subject tests so I could take those as well. If I make it productive, would taking a gap year before applying be a very bad idea? Thank you.

“The Dean” is writing this reply to you in an extra-large type size to make sure that your mom can see it if she's sneaking a peak over your shoulder. ;-)

A “productive” gap year before applying to college is NOT a “very bad idea.” In fact, it’s a very GOOD one! Many high school students are in your shoes ... not certain where their passions lie or what (and where) their next steps should be. Thus allowing a breather between high school and college can be an excellent way to test-drive new experiences before jumping back into full-time academia. College admission officials, including at some of the snazziest colleges such as Princeton and Yale, often encourage teenagers to take time off before freshman year. So your college admission odds might actually improve at least a smidgeon when the admission folks see “Gap" on your application. (Are you reading this, Mom?)

Granted, the grapevine may tell you that prospective Gappers are better off applying to college while still in high school and then deferring for a year once accepted. And I, too, sometimes gave that same advice. But that was eons ago, before the Internet made it easy-peasy to complete applications, contact teachers and counselors for recommendations, order test scores, and carry out the entire admission process from nearly every corner of the world. So, in today’s hyper-connected universe, it certainly makes sense for undecided students like you to postpone college decisions until the gap year is under way. Do keep in mind, however, that--for most colleges, especially the highly selective ones--your applications will be due during fall or early winter, so you will still have to be thinking about choices even before you have fully delved into your gap-year endeavors.

The only students in my orbit who regretted opting for a year off are those few who didn’t make gap year plans and then found themselves bored in their childhood bedrooms while their friends settled into college dorms. But do assure your parents that admission officials are largely very enthusiastic about gap years, and it sounds like you are, too.

Good luck, whatever you decide.