What Are the Pros of Taking a Gap Year?
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A year between high school and college, commonly spent traveling, working, or volunteering, is commonly referred to as a gap year. Formerly a popular option for primarily European students, gap years are now increasing in popularity amongst students in the United States. But why?
For many students and parents, a gap year can sound intimidating at first. Some students worry that college admissions will frown upon their experiences or that they will fall out of sync with a peer group that’s grown comfortable over years of shared academic experiences. Parents might worry that a student will lose interest in college or fall behind academically. Indeed, gap years can be the source of anxiety and even conflict.
In reality, though, a gap year can be a valuable experience in many ways. In fact, some colleges such as Harvard as even encouraging students to defer for a year, providing resources about the benefits of taking a gap year before starting college. In this post, we’ll outline the eight pros of taking a gap year.
Gain Professional Experience
Some gap years include work experience, either through an actual job, an internship, or even a volunteer program. By immersing yourself in a career field, you’ll gain important professional experience including making connections in the field, understanding the daily undertakings of the profession, and building an understanding of the workplace culture. Many gap year students get a better idea of what careers they want to pursue themselves.
These types of professional experience will make you a more desirable job candidate and will set you apart from other students your age. The experience gained will strengthen your college application, too!
Build Life Skills
This is one of the most commonly regarded pros of a gap year. For many students, high school is a time of routine. There are set schedules for nearly everything and most of your commitments are well-defined. On a gap year, you will usually have far more freedom and far more responsibility.
This increase in both freedom and responsibility will force you to mature quickly. You might have to set and maintain a budget. You may need to create a schedule for household chores, self-care, and other commitments. You’ll need to go grocery shopping and do laundry.
Many parents of gap year students report that they can’t believe how much their students matured over the course of the year. Being on your own, especially in a new setting without the support network of friends or family nearby can force you to develop new skills quickly.
Broaden Your Perspective
Some gap year experiences take place in far away places. Whether these are out of the country or simply in a community that’s different from the one in which you were raised, living in these new environments often provides a new perspective on culture and values. Many times, gap year students gain knowledge about global issues and have a better understanding of other people’s struggles.
These kind of shifts in your thinking can influence who you are as a person, as a friend, as a student, and as an aspiring professional.
Make a Difference
Some gap years are designed around community service. Whether you’re working at your local food pantry or volunteering as an assistant at Doctors Without Borders, gap year volunteers are sure to leave with the knowledge that you’ve made someone else’s life a little easier.
Learn More About Yourself
For many students, high school is a time of conformity. After all, there are only so many extracurriculars or classes to choose from. You are essentially doing some variation of the same thing as most people around you, and like it or not, you probably spend a decent amount of time comparing yourself to others. This is completely normal for this time in your life.
After high school, removed from all your previous classmates, you finally have the chance to reinvent yourself. Taking on a challenge, tackling an adventure, or simply stepping outside your comfort zone independently can reveal a lot about who are you as an individual, outside of the high school walls.
The extra year will provide you with more time to consider who you want to be, what you want to do, and where you want to do it. Many times, students jump right into college with a certain momentum on a specific trajectory. Stepping back for some time can allow you to evaluate if that’s what you really want.
Build a Stronger College Application
For students whose applications need improvement in a few key areas, gap years can be a time of focusing on this. For example, if you’re a top student whose SAT or ACT scores are in the pits, you can spend part of your gap year focusing on test prep or working with a tutor. If you feel you don’t have enough service work or community involvement, you can build these experiences during a gap year. You can also establish skills like leadership, dedication, and maturity.
Although strengthening your college application might not be the only reason behind a gap year, it’s still a great bonus.
Refresh Your Interest in Academia
High school can be rigorous. Between the challenging coursework, demanding extracurricular commitments, and a healthy social life, it’s easy to feel like you’re balancing the world on your shoulders. Some students leave high school at the verge of a breakdown and taking a gap year is just the ticket to changing course.
By stepping away from academia temporarily, you’ll allow your own true interests to blossom again. You’ll be able to return to school with a renewed energy.
Finally, the fact is that college isn’t cheap. In fact, the CollegeBoard estimates that about 2/3 of students in college in 2016 were on some kind of financial aid. If you’re one of the majority for whom finances are a concern, a gap year can give you the financial padding that you need.
Getting a job and saving for college is a smart choice if you can make it work for you. Some students who go this route continue to live with their parents so that virtually all of their earnings can be saved. For others, this isn’t possibly, but even with a modest rent many students still manage to save enough for books or room and board.
Gap years are becoming increasingly popular with students in the United States for good reason. They provide many benefits besides those already linked with the activity itself. Many gap year students return with a depth of maturity and insight that is rare to find in a student straight out of high school.
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