For many high school students, going to college is a rite of passage. As they are finally entering adulthood, they are able to explore life without a parents’ hovering guidance. Everyone seems to be in a rush to finally attend college and get their degrees, but without stopping for a break, are people missing out on vital knowledge from experiences that aren’t learned in a classroom?
A gap year is a year break from school. It’s typically taken at the end of high school, before transitioning to college, but it can be taken at any point in a student’s academic career.
Gap years can be beneficial as it provides an opportunity to focus on working and saving money, gives a chance to travel and become more culturally aware or even gives the chance to find a passion and discover a career route. Taking a much needed break from academic life can help focus on personal growth.
In the United States, most kids are raised with the belief that going to school and getting a job are the most important aspects of reaching adulthood. Before students even leave high school, they are expected to know what they want to do when they grow up and with what little worldly knowledge they’ve learned, where to spend the next four years of their lives.
With the mentality that students need to graduate in four years and get a job to be successful, college students fear that taking a year off would not only set them back, but would make them feel unmotivated to go back to school altogether.
But in reality, most college students don’t graduate in four years. Only 19% of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree at non-flagship universities graduate on time, according to a study by Complete College America, a national organization that advocates for increasing college completion rates.
About 90% of students who take a year off have gone back to school, according to a Journal of Educational Psychology study. The students also tend to be more motivated and perform better than if they had gone directly to college.
Gap years are also a good resource for those who are unsure which major is right for them. Taking the time to figure out which major is a good fit can save time and money, while switching majors in the middle of completion can set students back further.
Shutting off the gears that have been grinding for the majority of a student’s life can lead to a more productive experience later on and serve as a reminder of the importance of getting an education.
One of the biggest reasons people choose to take a gap year is to travel. Compared to Europeans, Americans don’t travel internationally as much, therefore they don’t experience as many cultures.
Traveling forces students out of their comfort zones and allows them to experience diverse cultures. Cultural competency is something that many Americans lack, especially since many students spend most of their developing years not knowing anything other than their hometowns.
Interacting with diverse groups helps expand one’s knowledge of the world, and creates empathy for people with differing world views. Being able to communicate is a skill that not everyone has and it will help people to break out of their comfort zones.
To some, taking a gap year may seem inaccessible. The idea of leaving home for a year and going to another country to “find yourself” could be deemed unrealistic, but now more than ever, there are resources and scholarships for people who don’t have the funding for it.
Many foundations have been started by schools and professionals who have benefited from taking gap years, hoping to give others the same positive experience.
Although traveling is off the table due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to take a gap year will become available again once it’s safe to do so. It’s worth it to begin planning the trip a year or two ahead for the rewarding experience.
If renting short term is an option, packing up and moving somewhere new for a few months could be a nice and healthy change of scenery. The change in pace and lifestyle for a few months could be enough for some much needed mental clarity.
Although this option isn’t the case for everyone, students shouldn’t give up hope. A gap year can be taken at any point during one’s academic career. If school life gets too hectic at any point taking the year off could be the perfect solution to clear the mind and reevaluate plans.
Taking a gap year should be a choice, not a dream.