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Malia Obama’s year-long deferral before her first year at Harvard is a route taken by about 80 to 110 admitted students. Higher education experts tout the off-year as a way to travel, engage in a long-term special project, or otherwise use the time in a constructive and meaningful way. Source
So, what exactly is a gap year?
When a student takes a year off from school, after finishing high school and before beginning college, it’s called a gap year.
Here’s the official definition:
A gap year is a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, challenge comfort zones, and experiment with possible careers. Typically these are achieved by a combination of traveling, volunteering, interning, or working. A gap year experience can last from 2 months up to 2 years and is taken between high school graduation and the Junior year of their higher degree.
It’s not a vacation. It’s a time to grow and develop — both professionally and personally.
Though not as popular in the United States as it is in many European countries, the concept of a gap year is becoming more common in the U.S.
The hiatus from classrooms, textbooks, and tests has become an increasingly popular choice. The idea is that university-bound students go on an adventure, do something meaningful, and, if all goes to plan, arrive at campus a year later more mature, focused, and attuned to their goals. Source
While parents may fear that a student who takes a gap year might not return to start college, there are actually a number of benefits for students who take a year off before college.
If you’re planning on going to college, here are 4 reasons to consider taking a gap year:
#1 – You’ll have time to refocus, and set new goals.
The pressures placed on young people in the modern world by their parents, schools, society and perhaps most importantly, themselves, are intense.
This is one of the most important benefits of a gap year: simply having the time to relax and briefly escape the pressures of life.
This can be especially important if you have recently experienced mental or physical health problems or other traumatic events.
Taking a gap year can give you some time to get your life back on track.
#2 – You’ll be able to save money, and stabilize your finances.
Pursuing a college education is expensive. For many, it isn’t possible to pay for college right out of high school.
For this reason, taking a gap year to work and save money is a viable solution to the financial problem.
Even if you can get financial aid to pay for school, you can benefit by working during a gap year and reducing the amount of loans that you will have to take out to pay for school.
A year of working and saving money can also help you learn how to manage your own money, as well as the importance of a good education.
#3 – You’ll have a chance to explore a variety of career opportunities.
When you graduate from high school, it is unlikely that you’ve have had enough life experiences to know — with certainty — what you want to study and which career you want to pursue.
At most colleges, “undeclared” is among the most popular majors, which ought to give both parents and students pause — figuratively, but also literally. In no other major purchase do people write huge checks without knowing what they’re getting in the end. Source
A gap year can give you an opportunity to work temporary jobs in a variety of fields, to complete internship programs, or to otherwise learn about a number of different careers.
Even if an explored career turns out not to be to your liking, you can still take the knowledge gained from the experience to better choose an area of study and a career path.
#1 – You’ll be able to see and learn new things.
Students who have an opportunity to fulfill an educational dream (like traveling abroad) or a recreational passion (like hiking the Appalachian Trail) should carefully consider doing so before attending college — because you may not get another chance to spend a large amount of time doing the things you enjoy most.
What’s on your bucket list?
There are many important lessons to be learned in life outside of the walls of a classroom.
There is certainly nothing wrong with taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will provide a lifetime of memories!
A Message For Parents…
To ease the concerns of parents who may be thinking that a gap year would encourage their kids to skip college altogether, research shows that it doesn’t.
In addition, gap-year students take their studies more seriously and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like binge drinking.
I think it would have been great if my first year as an undergraduate hadn’t coincided with my first time living away from my parents, living in a major metropolitan area, drinking alcohol and fraternizing with 19-year-old men who wore black turtlenecks. But time out was then, and is still, a luxury mostly afforded to those young people who are in little haste to enter the job market and support themselves, and who don’t fear the mounting expenses of college. Source
And, in case you’re wondering, here’s what college admissions offices really think of gap years.
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With input from Financial Advisors, (a Tax Accountant and an Investment Manager), I share helpful tips regarding money and finances — including debt relief, insurance, budgeting, and investing for retirement. My goal is to help you save more, spend less, and invest for the future by sharing honest, tried & true budgeting tips and tools. When I'm not saving for the future and helping others save for theirs, you can find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).