If given the choice between two options—enrolling in a 4-year college in hopes of a degree, or taking
a year off of academic life for personal purposes—most high school students would choose the former option. However, the US is seeing an increase in popularity in the latter path, commonly termed a gap year.
A gap year is when a high school graduate delays college for a year to pursue travel, learn a new language, or immerse herself in art or music. For parents especially, this may seem like an unappealing concept, and it indeed can be if the student does not seize the opportunity properly. However, if approached and planned well, a gap year may exceed all expectations with rewarding experiences and valuable lessons.
Uncommon as they are, gap years are primarily criticized as a waste of time. “If my child were to come to me and say, ‘Dad, I want to take a gap year,’ I would not initially be opposed to the idea. My first question to put to them would be ‘Why?’ If their answer is well-thought and substantial, I’d say ‘Have at it.’ It really depends on the person themselves, their reasoning, and how they plan on spending their time off,” claims a thoughtful father of an SUA student.
More skeptical parents, however, are reluctant to see their child push off receiving a college education in favor of launching into the unknown, or worse, the unplanned. Yet their points do have some weight: an entire year of freedom to a high school graduate could mean any amount of things. If money is tight at home and travel is not an option, the less ambitious young adult may waste this time with frivolous activity and partying. Moreover, previous habits instilled in her by the monotony of school life—consistent time and financial management, especially—may be discarded during this period due to the lack of stability. To prevent this from happening, it is recommended that this young adult obtain a well-paying job.
Nonetheless, the majority of students that have chosen a gap year are adamant in their choice, claiming it to be an experience of a lifetime. Pilgrimages, mission trips, and study-abroad programs are just a few of the limitless opportunities of which students may take advantage.
"It's great if you're not quite ready for college or if you're just burnt out with school work,” comments Mrs. Sherrick, an SUA guidance counselor. More conveniently, she adds that “it’s possible to be accepted into a college, receive a scholarship, and have them hold it until your gap year is over.”
According to testimonials on a gap year website listed below, Sarah Bressler, a high school graduate of 2009 noted, “Taking a gap year and studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain, was the best decision I have made in my entire life.” Even the parents noticed significant development in their child upon their return home from travel: "A wonderful amount of growth in our daughter was obvious to us. There was a greater openness to people, a greater awareness of the environment, her ability to make a positive impact on it, and a confidence in her own abilities that grew from the challenges she chose to experience. We saw our daughter's childhood smile return to her face.”
Essentially, the value of a gap year is not dictated by skeptical parents and questioning friends and family, but by the students themselves. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost,” and not all who take a gap year are abstracted.
If you’re interested in taking a gap year, check out these cool websites: