In 2016, the Obamas announced Malia Obama would be taking a gap year before attending Harvard University in the fall of 2017. Despite there having been a rise in students taking gap years after high school for over a decade, according to the American Gap Association, this announcement was the first many Americans had heard of the option. Traditionally taken the year in between graduating high school and beginning college, a gap year is a time students use to travel, volunteer, intern, or generally define their interests beyond the classroom. Gap years have been popular in the U.K. for years, and now that they’re starting to hit the U.S. many are weighing in on the choice to take one. Here’s mine.
Taking a gap year is a no less valid choice than going to college straight after high school. School has become increasingly more intense over the last few years, and it’s not surprising that many students feel burnt out or lost after leaving such a pressured environment. Some have been so consumed with getting accepted into good colleges that they’ve had no time to consider what they want to study once they get to one. It’s okay to take a break, travel, work, or find yourself without schoolwork clouding your mind. It may delay the year you get your degree, but the benefits will wholly outweigh the downfalls. “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,” the Ivy League university’s website says. If Harvard says you should take a gap year, you should definitely be thinking about one.
Traveling is a huge motivator for students looking to take a gap year. It gives kids a chance to see the world in a way they hadn’t been able to in high school. It’s immersive, eye-opening, and teaches serious life-skills. One of the main things I’ve heard from the students I’ve interviewed is that it would be too expensive to travel, especially with college tuitions on the way. And though it may be expensive to do so through some programs, it doesn’t have to be. Some programs, such as Interexchange Gap Year in Thailand, are less than $5,000. Keep in mind that some places are cheaper to travel to than others. Gapping in France or Spain costs exponentially more than traveling to places such as India, Cambodia, or even traveling within the U.S. It’s all about destination and expectations when it comes to pricing.
Thirty-six percent of the students I interviewed said they’d travel if they took a gap year. “I would travel to France. I’ve wanted to go there since I started taking French and fell in love with the language. I feel like it would be my only opportunity to travel around, so I wouldn’t think twice and take the chance,” said senior, Edwin Moto.
Work was the biggest response I received while surveying students about gap years. According to the survey, the other 64% of students want to save up money for school or for becoming financially independent. Others just want to gain some work experience that could help them in their careers later on. And this is just as valid a choice as traveling, offering many of the same benefits for little of the cost. Looking out for things like health insurance and learning how to communicate effectively in jobs that require a lot of customer service can teach future college students a lot about who they are and what they want, and benefit them down the road when interviewing for jobs in their chosen career fields.
It should be noted that it is possible to travel and work at the same time during a gap year. You can do it on your own, or find a program such as the International TEFL Academy to help you. Many of the positions available are for teaching English in countries such as China, so if your future lies in education, this may be the path for you.
Whatever you choose to do, a gap year is a great opportunity to take a breath from the American education system. Who knows? You may find out something new about yourself. You’ll never know unless you take a chance, break from standard procedure, and do it.