3 Reasons Why Taking a Year Off Before College is a Good Idea

In today's world, the college diploma has (sadly) become the equivalent of earning a high school diploma in the 1950s. This is one reason why the cost of college has outpaced inflation; just ask any Baby Boomer how they could pay for an entire year of college with a summer job. We expect the typical high school graduate to enter college immediately, but in this post, I'm going to give you three good reasons why taking a year off before college can actually be a good idea.

Regular readers know that college is a topic I've spent some time on before. Last Spring, I gave a high school graduation speech about why today's youth should rethink the normal college experience.

So, consider this the State of College Education in 2018!

Avoid Being a Five-Year Student

Would you rather take a year off before school and complete college in four years or go to college immediately and take five years to graduate because you switch majors halfway through?

Roughly 20% of college freshmen are “Undecided” with their major. The first two years of college are virtually the same for every student, sure you might start taking some major-specific classes in your second year, but you're not exactly “niching down” yet. So, you can go to class your freshmen year and be okay until you decide between Biology and Chemistry or History and Political Science.

By taking a gap year before college, you can explore different career options at your leisure since you're debt-free and don't feel as pressured to find a real job because you have a mountain of student loans to repay.

You might have to get a part-time job or pay rent, but it's still cheaper (in most cases) than borrowing $25,000 a year to attend an in-state university and live on-campus.

How do I know?

I switched career plans in between my sophomore and junior year after a summer internship. Taking a gap year won't keep everybody from becoming a 5th-year student, but it can't hurt.

Pay for Your First Year of College

Taking a year off between high school can also be the perfect opportunity to make more money that can help you borrow less when you do start college. If you defer the interest for your student loans, the loans issued to pay for your freshman year accrue interest for four years before you make the first payment. Even if you still need to borrow money, you might be able to make interest-only payments as a student which can save you money long-term as you might get a lower interest rate with a private lender.

After you graduate, you have six months before your student loans enter repayment status. Before they enter repayment status, your student loan provider will send you a “bill” showing the total interest outstanding. You can make a lump-sum payment before the six-month mark and still pay the same amount of interest as with an interest-only loan. But if you let the interest capitalize, you'll pay “interest on interest” like an unpaid credit card balance and that's when your college education just got more expensive overnight.

If you're a teen entrepreneur, this year off can also be a fine time to try and build your own business. This is exactly what my wife did!

Test Out of College Classes

I want to let you in on a little secret. My wife didn't do the traditional college experience and she paid $8,000 for her bachelor's degree that she earned in 2009. Meanwhile, I went to a public college in Virginia in 2008 and paid $60,000 (tuition plus housing) for my bachelor's degree. We both graduated from an accredited university with a liberal arts degree, but I paid substantially more.

How'd my wife do it?

She tested out of her college classes via CLEP and DSST. In fact, she even wrote a book called No College Debt about her experience to help others earn a college degree for a fraction of the cost. I recommend CLEP testing for your freshman classes. A single test costs about $100 which is a fraction of the cost as sitting through a class to get credit. And, you can still graduate within four years of earning your high school diploma if you're diligent.

My college degree opened doors that would have never become unlocked if I didn't have my degree, but I didn't price shop. I was prideful and want a degree from a “premier” institute. I have no regrets going there, but student loans stink and I'm glad I'm not a college student now.

My four-year degree from 2004-2008 cost right around $60,000. That exact same degree ten years later costs, $110,600! Out-of-state students only paid $100,000 in '08; today they pay $213,000.

Can you imagine being 21 years old and being $110,000 in debt and still having to possibly go to graduate school and not even apply for a home mortgage yet?

I can't, and I don't want that to be a reality for the thousands of rising high school graduates that could use that money to buy a house instead of a degree they may never use.

What Do You Think Teens Should Do Before College?

What do you think high school students should do if they're not reasonably certain what they want to do with their lives?

  • Immediately go to college and figure it out later?
  • Take a year off to consider vocational school vs. a 4-year university?
  • Go to community college before transferring to a 4-year school?
  • Join the Army?

These are just a few thoughts that immediately come to mind for me. What about you?


Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.