Updated: May 2, 2020
As you advance through the college recruiting process, you may stop and think, should I consider taking a gap year?
For some, a gap year could be ideal. The post-graduate route has been a longstanding opportunity for some students to grow, develop, mature, and find their “best-fit” colleges. The following article outlines the main considerations for those of you who might not be ready or prepared to take the leap to college.
First, let’s understand the most common reasons players tend to opt for a gap year.
Next, let us look at the different types of “gap” years for high school golfers and the NCAA rules associated with each route:
Post-Grad – after high-school graduation, taking time to work on all facets of personal development.
Typically, post-grad opportunities are spent attending a golf academy in a warm climate or adding structure to their local home environment.
A post-grad year is allowed under the following NCAA rules
The NCAA “Five-Year” rule (Bylaw 12.8.1) states “a student-athlete shall complete his or her seasons of participation within five calendar years from the time in which the student-athlete first registers as a full-time college student”.
Therefore, the NCAA allows student-athletes a one-year grace period, however, the student-athletes “clock” automatically starts one year after high-school graduation.
Part-Time – enrolling part-time in a junior college or online classes.
In most cases, enrolling as a “part-time student” means enrolling in less than 12 credits/semester. (school dependent)
Registering for less than full-time status prevents the student-athlete from “triggering” their NCAA clock which preserves their five-year window during their “one-year grace period”.
Grade Retention - Repeating a grade in high-school or continuing education.
Repeating a grade in high school is also allowed under NCAA rules.
A prospective student-athlete must successfully complete 16 core courses no later than their originally scheduled high school graduation date (DI - Bylaw 188.8.131.52.1).
Therefore, once a high school golfer starts ninth grade, he or she has eight consecutive semesters to successfully complete the required 16 core courses by the NCAA.
Traditional– taking time away from school and golf to travel and embark on new journeys.
I do not recommend the traditional gap-year route for prospective student-athletes.
Now, let’s look at the PROs and CONs associated with the decision to take a gap year.
Can assist with personal development and the maturation process - physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially
Can assist in “readiness” for college golf
Players who are “late-bloomers” or from colder climates will have more time to showcase their skills and impress coaches
We must also be aware of the CONs of a gap year. Personally, I see too many players taking gap years because of the hopes they will improve their games and greatly enhance their chances of a D1 scholarship. I think this view is flawed for many reasons, the strongest of which is that most times, especially at the peak of their development, it is very difficult to see major gains in performance unless there is a significant life-altering change in a players practice, training, and preparation. However, in the case that a player needs to develop with the maturation process at their age or simply needs more time to be “college-ready” with their academics a gap year could be the more logical and correct answer, rather than just throwing themselves, “in with the wolves”.
Considering the decision to take a “gap” year should be treated on a case-by-case basis. Each individual is different and is most likely facing a different situation. Let’s now discuss some of the Con’s when considering a gap year.
No guarantee you will improve your college recruiting opportunities
Less structure in daily life and having to manage time and activities independently
Complications with NCAA Initial Eligibility
Increased confusion for College Coaches which could raise red flags if the gap year plan/vision is not communicated properly and understood by all parties.
Friends will leave town and embark on a new chapter in their lives, leaving many without friend groups, feeling left out and lonely, and on a different life path for the next year.
While taking a gap-year is certainly not for everyone, in many cases it could provide an additional year of academic, athletic, and personal growth for the individual and could position the player for more recruiting opportunities. Additionally, players who are underdeveloped could choose to take a gap year are better prepared to take on the busy challenge of becoming a student-athlete and are given ample time to mature.
For players who choose to take a gap year, understand that you will have to be highly motivated and prepared to embark on your new journey. This is not a vacation or time away from responsibilities, rather it’s your opportunity to show coaches you are capable of becoming a student-athlete. There will be sacrifices and commitments you will have to make in order to change your current situation and ultimately impress coaches of your athletic and academic abilities.
All in all, each player considering a gap year should carefully evaluate his/her situation to fully understand and optimize their college fit both from an academic and athletic perspective. Whether you decide to take a gap year or not, it is paramount you and your team create a plan that is best suited to maximize your development; academically, athletically, and socially.
Best of luck on your journey,
Michael J. Smith
Mike Smith is the founder of ForeCollegeGolf, a college placement and recruiting business where he aims to apply his background in competitive golf and recruiting education to help educate players, their families, and coaches about the college recruiting process.