How to Decide Whether to Take a Gap Year to Pursue Acting

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Q: I’m considering taking a gap year between high school and college to pursue acting full time. Can a gap year be helpful for an acting career, or should I go right to college?—@actinginfo, Backstage Community Forums*

College has become an expectation for many families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with just a high school diploma make around 60% of the wages of those with a bachelor’s degree. Consequently, many graduating seniors assume not only that they have to go to college, but that they need to do so immediately.

A gap year involves taking a break between high school and college. Historically, children of the wealthy would travel, usually to the capitals of Europe, as a way of finishing their education. A gap year can provide a break from 12 years of secondary education. Young adults can see new places and live a little. They discover how to manage their own affairs. They learn life skills. They are free to make mistakes while the stakes are still low. They gain perspective.

For an emerging actor, the advantages of taking a gap year are considerable. You can develop time management skills and learn the business side of performance. By the time you do go to college or university, you may have already developed a more goal-oriented mindset than your peers, many of whom will be learning to live on their own for the first time.

READ: 5 Ways the College Audition Process
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On the other hand, a gap year can pose challenges. You should be realistic about your chances of landing roles since you’ll be competing against actors who have already completed formal training programs. Depending on your finances, you might find yourself working so much to make ends meet that you’ll have little energy left for professional practice. Finally, you might the lose momentum to pursue a degree.

In sum: Know thyself. A gap year can be a transformative experience that provides real-world know-how. On the other hand, it can derail your educational trajectory. Talk with your family, your guidance counselor, and actors who have worked in the industry before college. If you decide to take time off, make a plan that includes figuring out logistics such as housing, employment, and budgeting. In the end, make your own choice based on what will be most helpful to you.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Jeff Kaplan
Jeff Kaplan is an assistant professor in Dance & Theatre at Manhattanville College in the New York City metropolitan area. He holds an MFA in Dance from Texas Woman’s University and a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Maryland. He teaches Theatre History, Dramatic Literature, and Acting, as well as Dance History, Dance Composition, and seminars. He is a solo performer, and research interests include the history of solo performance.
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