The Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year
Following the pressure and confusion of the pandemic, more and more students and their parents are inquiring about whether it is worthwhile to take a gap year. According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year is a “semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to (college), in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.” In practical terms, a gap year is when a high school student graduates from high school and then takes up to a year off from school, choosing not to immediately begin college the following autumn. Instead, the student participates in one or more of several activities, such as getting a job, taking an internship, participating in a program like AmeriCorps, starting a business, volunteering with a non-profit, or engaging in educational travel.
The Pandemic Effect
Taking a gap year has been an accepted practice since the 1960s, and there are numerous organizations that support students in their gap year, some costing thousands of dollars while others instead pay the “gapper”. Historically, only a tiny percentage of American high school graduates accepted into college have taken a gap year, but that number skyrocketed during the early part of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, as many colleges and universities shifted to online and remote programs beginning with the lockdowns at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Many students, especially those planning to attend elite institutions, decided to take one so that they could look forward to a full four-year college campus experience.
The Value of a Gap Year
A gap year can be a valuable experience for high performing students, especially after a particularly rigorous high school academic experience. Students who attended prestigious high schools, whether public or private, sometimes express concerns about academic burnout. A gap year can afford a student who has already been accepted to a highly competitive college a chance to explore the world in a less intense environment. Such students can get a job in a field that interests them, sign on to an internship that doesn’t normally fit into a school schedule, volunteer, or engage in educational travel.
The secret to a successful gap year experience is to focus on activities that align with your academic and career interests in order to explore them outside the classroom. Getting a random job, hanging out at home playing Xbox or Playstation games, or traveling randomly is not a gap year. Getting a job at a hospital because you are interested in medicine, starting a small business out of your garage because you are interest in entrepreneurship, or traveling to Spain because you are considering majoring in Spanish in college, each count as participating in a gap year.