In today’s world of rapid progress in all areas of life, it is uncommon to hear adults urging children to slow down and take time off. Rather, most adolescents are constantly being reminded about the impending doom of college, careers, marriage and other facets of reaching adulthood. Upon somehow reaching this idea of adulthood, they are greeted by new reminders of 401Ks, retirement, saving for their own children’s education and more. But more and more, higher level colleges are encouraging a gap year in order to reach a higher level of success. More than that, however, I believe there can be benefits to taking a gap year to further develop extra-curricular education.
According to the American Gap Association (AGA), “Gap Year students show a clear pattern of having higher GPAs than would otherwise have been predicted, and the positive effect lasts over all four years.” Several studies have shown that taking a gap year can lead to one of the biggest deciding factors in careers and education today: self-motivation. When a student is forced to make his or her own decisions and prepare for the future with a rubric, class guide, or academic advisor, the student is more likely to develop self-motivation. Students also are generally better at foreseeing a career, or their future in general, as a big picture. This leads to more gap year students being “overwhelmingly satisfied” with their jobs. Rather than simply focusing on landing any job or just getting a degree, they have the forethought to create long term career objectives and are more likely to end up satisfied in the long run.
By taking the time to evaluate decisions through their previous independent experiences, better choices are made for themselves, not just what their parents or professors recommend. Additionally, gap year students are more often cited as “more mature, more self-reliant and independent,” according to the AGA. Surprisingly, gap years are not just encouraged as a means to get experience at another job or to pursue more education. Students are also told to take the time to enjoy a trip, activity or hobby they have always dreamed of doing because it helps set a student up for prioritizing, something many college and graduate students will struggle with.
This outburst of encouragement in gap years isn’t just for small, liberal arts colleges, either. Harvard says, “Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way.” Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins medical schools have similar statements telling students that a gap year tends to benefit most students.
Many people, of course, have their doubts. They picture kids simply fooling around, losing the motivation to return to school, or being denied entrance to or the ability to return to a school. But the AGA says, “Ninety percent of gap-year students return to school after their intended year off.” Even more reassuring, students who take gap years are more likely to return to school for a second year because they have already evaluated their priorities and are more likely to have picked an institution they will enjoy.
Many schools also offer programs that allow students to take up to a year off to pursue non-academic interests, with no drop in GPA or re-enrollment process. While students may still fool around for some time, the majority of young adults motivated enough to apply to and prepare for college in the first place will be able to find a way to constructively use their time. Many academic arenas are even more encouraged to take a gap year in order to revitalize and build up their motivation. Medical schools, law schools, and doctoral and masters programs are among the top institutions which encourage a gap year because students are more likely to stay in school and succeed if they have taken the time to see beyond their previous scope and realize that they still want to pursue their dream.
It’s easy to think of life as running a race, and a gap year being a one minute break to grab some water and stretch. By being able to take a moment to envision your end, you’re much more likely to want to fight to the finish, than if your view were still limited to the 10 feet in front of you.
Taryn Vis is a sophomore communication major.