Should US Schools Adopt the Gap Year Practice?

The transition from high school to college is a stressful time for countless American students. Apart from accomplishing all coursework in order to graduate, students are under great pressure to complete the application process and gain admission to college. On top of that, students face the challenge of funding their college education. Because of all the stress associated with this period, more and more Americans are opting to take a year off before entering college. Commonly known as a “gap year,” this year-long sabbatical is often used to travel, work, or volunteer. Though by no means the norm in the United States, schools should begin adopting the gap year practice due to its many benefits.

What is the gap year?

The gap year is a year-long sabbatical students take before entering college. During this time, a student may engage in a variety of pursuits including gaining work experience, traveling abroad, or volunteering. Most students are free to choose how to spend their gap years, although some schools offer programs tailored according to students’ needs. For instance, prestigious schools such as Harvard, Georgetown, and MIT offer formal gap year programs to their incoming freshmen.

Benefits of taking a gap year

While the vast majority of Americans still transition directly from high school to college, students, families, and schools should seriously consider making gap year a regular practice for a number of reasons.

gap year study work volunteer travel abroad united states school university collegeA gap year improves preparedness for college

One of the main reasons why taking a gap year should be common practice is its positive effect on readiness. A lot of students feel that they are not prepared to enter college. The pressure of immediately starting college also causes many students to choose majors despite not yet having figured out what exactly their interests are. Readiness for college is particularly important considering how students today are spending tens of thousands per year. In other words, students have little room for making drastic changes midway through college. Taking a gap year addresses these concerns by giving students the time to think about what they really want and prepare. The knowledge, skills, and experiences that students gather can help them identify their interests, navigate college better, and thrive in their academic environments. In fact, studies show that students who take a gap year perform better in college than their peers who have not taken a year off. Such students also report higher rates of job satisfaction.

A gap year enables students to save up

Another benefit of taking a gap year is that it helps students save up for college. The financial cost of college is one of the leading issues facing students. The average student debt today stands at $37,000. Paying the debt off can last from years to decades, and can have detrimental effects on people’s financial wellbeing and overall health. A gap year gives students the opportunity to work and save up. Just working full-time for a whole year can make a big difference for the average student.

gap year study work volunteer travel abroad united states school university college A gap year allows students to expand their learning

Although a gap year is spent outside of the traditional classroom, it can still be an extremely educational experience. Many students who go on sabbatical, for instance, choose to work for companies or volunteer in organizations. Others choose to take advanced courses on subjects that interest them. Such experiences, in turn, allow students to gain so much learning. It is not unusual for students to acquire new knowledge and skills that they can use for personal, educational, and professional development. Some even get to learn the ropes of particular trades. Safe to say, a year spent on learning outside of the classroom is a year well spent.

A gap year allows students to see the world

Some students spend their gap year traveling the world. For those with limited finances, international non-profit organizations offer the chance to volunteer and travel at the same time for free. Whether students choose to fund their own travels or volunteer abroad, they gain the benefits of seeing the world. Exposure to different cultures help develop students’ worldviews, enhances their cultural awareness and competency, and gives them valuable life lessons.

gap year study work volunteer travel abroad united states school university collegeA gap year encourages well-rounded college students

Though a gap year means students need to defer college for a year, the benefits of taking the time off are more than worth it. When spent on productive pursuits like working, traveling, or volunteering, a gap year gives students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and mature. Such pursuits can be a source of so much learning that no classroom can ever offer. More than just acquiring technical knowledge and skills, students can learn crucial life lessons. Consider, for instance, how volunteering in a foreign country cultivates soft skills while enhancing future employability. Any student who decides to spend a gap year productively can expect to enter college wiser, better prepared, and well-rounded.

Making the gap year a common practice

Adopting the practice of granting students a gap year is hindered by a main issue: the concern that those who go on sabbatical might decide to forgo college altogether. Statistics show that at least 10% of students who go on leave do not return within a year or do not return at all. While this is a valid concern, there are ways to prevent students from forgoing college. One such solution is integrating the gap year into the curriculum. Many schools design gap year programs based on students’ majors in order to maximize its benefits. Another solution is by imposing a limit on curriculum-based gap year programs to ensure that students progress to college. Given its extensive benefits and the possible solutions to its drawbacks, it’s about time that schools start offering students a gap year. The gap year could be the vital link that makes the transition from high school to college a resounding success.