Should You Take a Gap Year?

Image by Ashley Chaney

Do you know what a gap year is? If you live in the United States you may not, as it is much less common here than in other countries.

A gap year is when a student does not enroll in college right after high school but instead, takes a year-long sabbatical to learn more about themselves and who they wish to be as an adult. Of those who choose to take a gap year, some travel leisurely, others do experiential-learning activities, and many choose to work in various fields during that time. It is widely believed that choosing to take a gap year has major positive effects on the performance and satisfaction of students once they attend college, but why?

Personally, I have some experience with the effects taking a break from college can have on your overall performance in school, though my experiences didn’t come in the form of a gap year. During my second year at Miami University, I made the decision to take a break to refocus my life. I felt listless, unmotivated, and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life — and my grades reflected those feelings. I was taking out a ton of loan money to pay for courses that I wasn’t putting any effort into, and I decided it would be better for my time and money if I entered the workforce while trying to find my purpose in life. Though what was meant to be only one year turned into five.

During that time I had the privilege of working multiple jobs that gave me invaluable professional experience. Then, when I had the opportunity to attend college again, I seized it with a determination I never would have had as a freshman straight out of high school – I saw it as a privilege, not the “next step.”

“Taking a gap year and finding out what you enjoy can be a great way to pave your plans for the future.”

For those in high school who are feeling unsure of what they want to study, or current college students who aren’t performing as well as they need to in order to succeed, a gap year or break may be something to consider. Hannah Gaffner, a senior at Greenville University, feels that taking a gap year after high school made her into the student she is today. She states, “If anything, I feel that waiting to attend college had a positive impact on my performance as a student. In high school I was definitely not putting forth as much effort in terms of my classes as I could have been, and I know in college I have improved on that tremendously.”

Taking a gap year and finding out what you enjoy can be a great way to pave your plans for the future. By trying new things and eliminating choices you fail to find joy in, you can make those difficult decisions before you begin paying $25K in tuition charges alone. Seeing college as a means to get you to where you want to go, versus something you’re obligated to do, will be motivation enough to perform your best daily.

Gaffner sees evidence of this in her situation as well. She explains that taking the time off only increased her desire to attend college, and said she often thinks she would not be performing as well as she is, had she not taken that year off.

Taking time off school to learn a new skill or to volunteer can be a great resume builder for future employment. Image source: School House Magazine.

Though taking a gap year can help in many ways (maturity, motivation, and better understanding of what you want to do), it is important to understand it may not be the best course of action for everyone. Often times, students who do not follow the traditional college timeline can feel alienated from others in their programs, as they are different ages and maturity levels. This is not always the case, but it becomes increasingly likely for those who tend to be more introverted.

One must also consider the statistics surrounding those who chose to take breaks from school. Very rarely do the breaks only last the semester or year the student planned on. When not in school, the momentum can wear off and life gets too busy. If one were to consider taking a break, it may be best to ensure they have an appropriately detailed plan for how long they want to take off and for what they plan to do with their time. I’m a perfect example of how easy it is for a break to take significantly longer than planned — it never feels like the “right time” to re-enroll and the financial aspect can seem daunting.

College is an investment. We invest our time, a great sum of money, and work into something that was created to teach us the skills necessary to succeed in our dream professions. If you’re unsure of where you’re going in life, or if you just can’t find the will to perform your best, it may be paramount to look into taking some time off to learn more about yourself. If taking a break doesn’t seem right for you, try viewing college as the privilege it is — a privilege not available to everyone.

Work hard, and for goodness’ sake – go to the classes you’re paying for.

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