Recently, the White House stated that Malia Obama, President Obama’s eldest daughter, will attend Harvard after taking a “gap year.” For those who are not familiar with the term, a gap year is a break between high school and college, during which students can volunteer, work, travel, or do many other activities. Gap years have become more popular over the years, and now there’s even an American Gap Association that informs students about various opportunities. As this trend starts to pick up, some students wonder whether a gap year is right for them. Well, here are some things to consider:
1) A gap year will often boost--not reduce--academic momentum.
There is a common concern among students and parents that a gap year will be detrimental to student academic progress. If a high schooler decides to take a year off to travel around the world, then they probably won’t want to go back to the chaos of a classroom, right? Not quite. According to a study conducted by Sydney University, students actually see a “real boost in performance at the first semesters at university” when they take a year off from school. Also, students feel that their career plans are “crystallized,” adding to motivation. Not only that, schools like Harvard and Princeton even encourage students to do a gap year. (Princeton’s program is called Bridge Year.)
When students spend a year working in their desired field, volunteering in a community, or even working a 9-to-5 job, they gain experience and perspective that many first-year college students lack. What seems like a counter-intuitive move to stop in the middle of an academic career is actually a useful reminder to students that they will ultimately be living in the real world, not a stack of books, once they complete their studies.
2) A gap year is an option for people of most, if not all, economic backgrounds.
The idea of taking a year off school to find your inner self may seem like a pricey endeavor. After all, who exactly will be footing the travel bills? For some, parents are more than willing to subsidize a gap year, but many others are not as fortunate. The price point can be a challenge for students who want to enter some accredited programs, but creativity on your part can eliminate the obstacle. For one, programs often offer financial aid opportunities. Also, you can view this year as an investment in your education and even your future career, a perspective that will hopefully make the costs seem worthwhile.
Additionally, universities like seeing students who take responsibility with their finances, especially with regards to tuition. It shows another level of maturation. So don't disregard the most obvious choice for a gap year activity: working a normal job. Whether you are working somewhere related to your field, or working in general to save for college, you will be gaining important experiences and making money. That can't be a bad thing, right?
3) A gap year should be organized and well planned.
Not all students need to take a gap year. Before making any hard commitments, you need to first determine if the gap year is right for you. Are you anxious to leave the classroom environment? Do you think language immersion will be useful for your future career? Do you need to gain perspective so you can make the best academic choices at college? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself. But, really, just be honest with yourself and treat this commitment as seriously as you would any other academic endeavor.
If you do decide to take a year off school between college and high school, then you need to determine if you will apply to colleges as a senior or wait until after the gap year is finished. Of these two choices, the recommendation is that you still apply as a senior, because you will have more resources at your disposal, such as guidance counselors and teachers who write rec letters. Also, many universities will allow you to defer your admission, so it makes sense to secure a spot at a university instead of dealing with applications after (or during) the gap year.
Here at B2A, we counsel students regarding all academic affairs, and the gap year is another area we specialize in. If you are considering a gap year between high school and college, ask to set up a meeting so we can review your options and whether or not a gap year would be best for your academic career.