Choosing among the colleges they’ve been accepted to can be an exciting (and sometimes stressful) process for graduating seniors, but there’s still another big question to answer as well: should they start college right away or defer for a year?

For many students, taking a gap year is an excellent option. Those who choose this path frequently report good experiences and outcomes. Students with learning differences, who may benefit from additional maturation and skill building, are especially good candidates for a gap year.

One of the key questions to ask as students approach the end of high school is whether they are truly college-ready. If they begin college without the skill set they need to succeed, they are more likely to drop out, resulting in a substantial emotional and financial cost.

Even those who earn straight “A”s in high school aren’t always fully prepared for college. In order to thrive in college, students should be competent in a number of other areas, including independent living and self-advocacy.

Is a gap year the solution? As with any big decision, it’s a good idea to consider the pros and cons of this option. Here are a few to consider:

Pros of taking a gap year

  1. Students who’ve taken a gap year demonstrate higher motivation and persistence in college
  2. Student who’ve taken a gap year earn higher grades in college than similar students who don’t
  3. Students report that a gap year helps clarify their career plans
  4. Waiting another year to start college allows for another year of brain development and maturity
  5. A structured gap year program can teach students academic and life skills to help them be more successful in college
  6. Students who struggled in high school or who had disappointing college application results may be stronger candidates for college after a productive gap year

Cons of taking a gap year

  1. Students who graduate college a year later sacrifice a year of career earnings
  2. Structured gap year programs involve a significant expense, in some cases as much or more than an additional year of college

Despite these potential drawbacks, if students are nearing the end of high school and aren’t yet college-ready, it can be wise to spend the next year brushing up on essential skills—or at the very least, enrolling in a summer program to build independence. At Top College Consultants, we love helping teens craft a plan to develop the skills they need to succeed in college.

(This article was originally published in the Spectrum Transition Coaching blog.)