Are gap years a smart move?
I’m taking a gap year… by James Noh
Whenever I tell other students “I’m taking a gap year,” it is often met with astonishment, confusion, and even the occasional “what’s a gap year?” Clearly, taking a gap year—deferring enrollment to college for one year after graduating high school—is still an uncommon and unpopular option for the vast majority of students. However, gap year students enjoy a multitude of direct and indirect benefits that will ultimately better prepare them for college in comparison to their non-gap-year counterparts.
First of all, taking a gap year will give you a clearer idea about what you want to do with your life. Many gap year students use their year off of school to travel, complete internships or start working full-time. In this way, they come to experience “the real world” away from the structured, dabble-in-multiple-subjects-but-no-depth high school experience. Throughout your gap year, you have the ability to freely and deeply explore subject areas you are interested in without any requirements holding you back. Maybe work and get paid at a software company as a computer science intern, learning practical coding skills actually used in the workplace. Or write freelance and publish your first book—it could be the next hit teen dystopian novel, you never know. Study abroad and take classes at a foreign academic institution while picking up the language, or study a critical language abroad on a fully-funded U.S. State Department scholarship such as YES, CBYX and NSLI-Y, like I am. The breadth of gap year activities is virtually endless.
And while many view taking a gap year as a privilege exclusive to wealthy students who can afford the money to travel, various organizations, universities, companies and even the federal government give fully- and partially-funded scholarships.
Furthermore, taking a gap year will help you become more rested and ready—both mentally and physically—for college. You just finished the crazy last four years of your life at Northwood. Think about the toll those classes, tests, extracurricular activities, AP exams, stress and emotional breakdowns took on your mental and physical health. Don’t you think it’s time to pat yourself on the back, rest and recover? Create a workout plan and commit to it throughout your gap year, spend more time with your family and friends, reconnect with your culture while living abroad and if it helps you destress, rejuvenate your spirituality through meditation or attending religious services.
Taking a gap year could help you gain the maturity and self-confidence you need to get through the rest of your educational career, whether it includes just four years of undergraduate education, graduate school or even getting a doctorate degree. In a New York Times article from 2000, Harvard admission officers said that their students found the gap year experience “so valuable that they would advise all Harvard students to consider it.” Now, approximately 100 Harvard students out of each year’s incoming class make the decision to take a gap year. And what’s more, a 2011 study conducted at Middlebury College reports quantifiable, higher GPAs among college students who took gap years than those who did not. So, taking a break right now will help you to be more successful later on.
At the end of the day, the benefits are clear: a “gap” year may be what you need to “fill” in the unanswered blanks in your life.
I’m going straight to college… by Angelina Ye
Gap years have grown more popular in recent years, and they are often encouraged by counselors, as well as certain colleges. But although it is heralded as a ticket to maturity and a pathway to a clearer-cut future, taking a gap year is not a be-all, end-all solution to your college woes.
A gap year is, at its core, a year off that gives students more freedom than college does. And just like with college, that freedom must be tempered by responsibility and discipline in order to truly be an effective use of time. Thus, any student who takes a gap year runs the risk of treating it like an extended summer break, staying indoors and doing nothing. Unless you have a solid plan and an immense amount of self-discipline, it’s better to just go to college.
And even if you have a detailed plan, the demands of a gap year can be expensive. Many of the programs targeted for students taking a year off amount to an extra semester or year’s worth of college tuition, and the programs that provide financial support are usually highly selective and competitive. Traveling also racks up costs with plane tickets, housing, etc. So instead of taking a gap year to travel, consider studying abroad in college, which can be more productive, enjoyable and affordable.
The most dangerous part of taking a gap year is the possibility of losing your academic momentum. Taking a break from school can cause you to forget valuable material and turn your freshman year of college into an attempt to catch up on all the information that faded during your gap year. As a soon-to-be freshman at a difficult tech school, I know that, for me, losing that momentum of constant learning and studying would turn into habitual laziness and could end up being more stressful in the long run. I would have to take additional classes beyond those required of freshmen just to stay on track with the other members of my class.
While gap years may be beneficial for some students, their financial and academic cost —in addition to the looming risk of wasting time—make them much less than the magical solution that people wish they were.