Every spring, there is palpable excitement as seniors hear back from colleges. It seems as though most conversations are about the future, seniors’ “next steps” and the new life awaiting them in the coming fall. This year, especially, it seems particularly exciting, given that many seniors did not have a traditional final-year-of-high-school experience. However, before seniors rush into the college experience, they should consider taking a gap year. Gap years have recently attracted more attention, since many members of the Class of 2020 decided to take them due to COVID-19, but gap years are actually a fantastic option, pandemic or otherwise.
Students typically graduate from high school at 18, when most students still have some growing up to do. The majority have spent their entire life focused on attaining a formal education. Many did not have to worry about making a livable income, feeding themselves or navigating real-world obstacles. When they go to college, this is often their first time living independently, and the experience can feel quite jarring. Taking a gap year, especially if one chooses to work, can ease the transition and better equip students to deal with the inevitable complications that come with living independently.
Additionally, gap years can provide students with a renewed appreciation for education. As mentioned, by the time they turn eighteen, students have spent nearly their entire lives in school, sometimes resulting in intense burn-out. Going straight to college, where students spend another four years in a likely even more rigorous educational setting, can be unhealthy and contribute to burnout, which can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, anger and general exhaustion. This makes it difficult for students to fully take advantage of the opportunities college offers, resulting in a less rewarding and unfulfilling experience than if students had just taken a break after high school. This is one reason why students who take gap years earn better grades and end up much more involved on campus than those who do not.
Gap years also offer students the chance to pursue their non-academic passions. While in high school, students must meet a certain rigid set of requirements that often dictate which classes they take. Desires to attain a certain GPA or look impressive to colleges can also dictate which classes students take, and result in students taking courses that may not align with what truly fascinates them. While students have the freedom to major in whatever they wish in college, they still remain confined to that major’s requirements, and they still must take the classes in an academic setting. Taking a gap year allows students to explore their passions completely independently, without any restrictive guidelines or demands. It also paves the way for the discovery of new passions, because, depending on how students choose to spend the gap year, it allows for a much more organic, creative environment than the classroom.
Some argue that students lose momentum if they take time off before going to college and that if students don’t immediately advance in their educational careers, they may simply decide not to attend at all. While this is a valid argument, it can be avoided if students apply to college their senior year and defer their acceptance. This minimizes the possibility of not returning to school, because there is a clear next step.
So, to all seniors: consider taking a gap year — they offer the chance to mature, explore and rest before jumping into the next stage of life. After all, there’s always time.