More high school grads will take a gap year — here’s how to make the most of it

The pandemic means more high school graduates will be taking a gap year before heading off to college, and that can be a good thing, despite the reasons for it.

Junior Achievement of Greater Washington cites Junior Achievement survey results that found 14% of current juniors and seniors in high school plan to delay college after graduating. That’s an improvement over 25% who did so last year, but the reason is the same: family finances.

Half of those surveyed who are expecting financial help from parents or guardians with college costs say they expect them to cut back on what they can provide, largely because of how the pandemic has affected their finances.

There is nothing wrong with taking a year off between high school and college, as long as it isn’t just spent playing video games, or otherwise wasted. But it takes a firm plan.

“There really has to be some thought as to what is going to happen to make it an enriching experience. Whether that’s travel, volunteering or working, there is a myriad things young people can do as part of that gap year,” said Ed Grocholski, senior vice president of brand for Junior Achievement.

Junior Achievement’s research shows more young people have been taking on jobs than in the past, and earning money to help pay for college is certainly a good use of a gap year. But, if your teen comes to you and says they would like to do some traveling during that time off, it shouldn’t be dismissed as frivolous.

“Travel is a great, enriching experience that can really add a lot of dimension,” Grocholski said.

“Especially in that gap year, taking time to really explore different parts of the country or different cultures around the world and taking that experience with you when you start your college career.”

Regardless of what their families have been through, high schoolers are more hopeful about their own futures than they were a year ago. Junior Achievement says 75% of those juniors and seniors surveyed said they were optimistic about their own future financial success, compared to 65% who said so a year ago.

Junior Achievement surveyed 2,500 high school students and recent high school graduates between Feb. 21 and March 8 for its JA COVID-19 Graduation report.

The full report is posted online.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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