By Samantha Yates
There are infinite possibilities for students after graduation, and the next step can seem a bit overwhelming. Should they continue their education at a higher level? Should they head straight into the work force? An option that is gaining popularity with many students, particularly high school seniors but also college students, is to take a gap year.
A gap year is exactly what it sounds like: taking a year-long break between graduating from school and, for most people, the next level of education. According to Adrienne Wichard-Edds writing for The Washington Post, it is very popular in European countries and is gaining popularity in the United States.
The thought of a gap year can be a difficult prospect for some. It seems like a waste of time, because it will put off whatever is next—college, graduate school, etc.—by a full year and result in a later graduation date. It goes against the ingrained notion that students go from high school to college to graduate school, with no mention of a break. Some are additionally concerned that taking a gap year will stall their progress, and they will not return to school afterwards. A gap year also can be expensive. Many individuals choose to volunteer or spend time abroad, but when the year-long experience of their choice is not paid for, students may find themselves in debt before even entering college or graduate school.
However, research shows that taking a gap year can be incredibly beneficial to one’s measurable academic performance. Since this is a relatively new trend in the United States, there is not a great deal of research supporting a gap year. However, the American Gap Association has data that reports that 90% of students who take a gap year do, in fact, go back to school. Furthermore, the same research shows students who take the gap year academically outperform those who have gone straight into the next level of schooling. While the experience can be expensive, there are also many scholarship opportunities available to help cover those costs. According to Time Magazine, some are even provided by collegiate institutions to encourage their freshmen to take a gap year. There are also programs that specifically look for students taking a gap year, helping to allay the burden of trying to figure out what to do during the extended break.
The measurable benefits of taking a gap year are helpful to see. However, the immeasurable effect that it has on a person’s growth as a human being and on their personal well-being is not something to be glossed over. In a study by the American Gap Association, 92% of individuals interviewed reported that their biggest takeaway from a year off was that they grew as a person and gained valuable, life-changing experiences. And data, in this case, does not speak as well as testimony. Christina DeJoseph, a sophomore at McDaniel College, is so passionate about her gap year and its effect on her that she gave a presentation about it at an annual honors conference. She says that her experience, which included traveling to seven countries and 14 US states, “helps to cement the idea that when you do things that you love and put your whole heart into it, you will end up where you are supposed to, whether you know what that is or not yet.”
Taking a gap year has pros and cons, but it seems overall consensus is that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Research showing that a gap year helps regain motivation and concentration and boost academic performance, while simultaneously providing a life-changing experience, is incredibly difficult to argue against, particularly with the mental and physical exhaustion that comes after completing any level of education. It is likely that the trend of taking a gap year will only continue to grow in the future.
Samantha Yates is a junior at McDaniel College majoring in English and minoring in economics. McDaniel College is home to the Delta of Maryland Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.