I was asked this question recently by a reader – he specifically wanted to know if it was a good idea to spend a year on a volunteer program in Africa before reapplying for top schools like Stanford and UPenn.

My answer: a qualified yes.

Why a “qualified” yes and not outright yes, yes, yes?

Because there are many variables that come into play. Here’s what you should consider when debating whether to take a gap year:

1) <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Taking a year off makes sense if you keep yourself busy and do interesting things in that time. Sounds familiar to my advice for summer activities, right?

2) <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Taking a year off makes sense if your activity/job/volunteer program/startup fits into the story you’re trying to tell Admissions Offices. Are you passionate about global warming? Spending a year doing research on climate patterns in Norway would be a great idea, then

3) <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Taking a year off only means 6 real months. Common Applications are due near the end of the year, which is about 6 months after your high school graduation. It’s not really a full year

4) <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Taking a year off is fine if the other parts of your application are strong. It shouldn’t be treated as a Hail Mary pass. If you have very low grades, a very low SAT score, a weak transcript, and nonexistent extracurricular activities, a strong gap year won’t be sufficient

Take these 4 factors into consideration when debating whether you should go work for your dad’s textile sales company for a year before applying to <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Ivy League schools.

Ultimately, it can be helpful. But make sure you’re a strong candidate already, and only do things that fit into the story of your candidacy.

Gap years are great for personal development, and they can be worthwhile if you need a break from the academic life. But don’t treat them as a panacea for college admissions, or you’ll be disappointed.

Hope that helps!

Hopeless To Harvard is a former Admissions Officer’s account of how to get into Harvard, Princeton, and any other <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Ivy League schools. Click here to learn about <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Ivy League schools, and break into the school of your dreams! Discover how to get into Harvard now.

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