“Where Are You Gapping This Fall?”: Why taking a gap year should be the new normal for high school graduates

September 28, 2018
Sarah DilworthGap Years

Let's imagine it’s April of your senior year in high school. You are feeling the pressure to make a decision about your plans after graduation. A decision that will perhaps shape the path of your life. There is intense pressure from your parents, your teachers, and your friends. “Where are you going to school this fall?” is a constant question in your everyday life–in the school hallways, in the cafeteria, during class, at the guidance counsellors’ office, before practice, during rehearsal, after the game, when your parents pick you up, while you’re eating dinner, and just as you’re drifting off to sleep.

There are so many factors to consider. What will I study? How soon do I have to choose a major? Will I live on or off campus? Am I the big university type or more of a small liberal arts person? Can my family and I even afford this school? Or any school? What about scholarships and financial aid? Can I take my car? What about a part-time job to help with costs? Will a four-year degree be enough to land a decent job? Should I plan to go to graduate school and take classes accordingly? Which school has the highest rate of graduate school acceptance? Do I even want to go to graduate school? What graduate program will best prepare me for my future career? What will that future career be? Will I be able to pay back all my student loans and still afford to buy or rent a home and live comfortably enough to breathe in this career? What will I do with the rest of my life?


College can (and certainly should!) be an amazing experience; but college is also an expensive, binding, long-term commitment. One not to be decided hastily. After successfully completing 13 consecutive years of full-time school, you deserve a change of pace, a change of scenery, some time to reflect on all you have learned so far. After all, it’s a very small portion of the population who can definitively say they knew what the heck they wanted to do with the rest of their life at the age of 17.


That’s why it is so important to really think of who you are and what you want to do, instead of making an assumption that going straight to college is simply what all graduating seniors do. Instead, you should be provided with opportunities to help you figure out what your next steps are all about.


There are many proven benefits to taking a break between high school and college, especially if this break involves working, volunteering, traveling, and other valuable life-learning, resume-building experiences. Read on to see how we can shift our mindsets away from asking “where are you going to school next year?” and towards “where are you gapping next year?”.


Higher College Success Rates

If your parents are pressuring you, saying if you who don’t go to college now, you will never go, you can be armed with the fact that 90% of students who take a gap year enroll in a higher education institution the following year. It has been reported that those students actually have higher GPAs compared to their non-gap-year-taking peers. This makes sense as, while some students may be ready to enter college immediately following high school, most students will readily admit that they would have benefited from time to prepare, mature, and hone in on the skills needed to succeed in college. Many students need to take a break from the monotonous daily school routine. They need to recharge and reflect on the things they’ve learned throughout the last 13+ years. They deserve some time to think about what they want the next stage of their life to look like, before making a huge investment, and signing their future salary away to student loan repayments.


Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Taking a gap year will help you learn more about yourself, but even more so about the world around you. You leave the bubble of your high school and explore a place, idea, or skill you never dreamed you could. Students who leave their high school bubble only to enter their college bubble don’t experience that same horizon broadening transformation. Sure, they may be in a new place with some new people, but after the first few weeks, that campus bubble starts to thicken. While gappers, on the other hand, are continually faced with new situations, challenges, discoveries, and repeatedly step outside their comfort zone.


Learn a Foreign Language

Taking a gap year abroad (or even spending a small part of that year abroad) will only compound all the benefits of gapping. Living in another culture, interacting with locals, and learning the language will turn any gapper into a global citizen. Learning the local language will allow you to connect deeper to the people, the customs, and the history of where you are living. Being proficient in a second (or third!) language will also help you stand out in a competitive job market. Learning another language has proven cognitive benefits as well. Boosts to memory, attention span, problem-solving skills, and concentration are all associated with language learning. Now those are some skills that will be essential in any college or workplace.


Develop Real, Transferable Life Skills

Students who take a gap year are constantly challenged. It is a time of immense personal and, maybe less obvious, professional growth. Gappers learn skills and develop attributes that you just can’t get by simply sitting in a classroom. Their real-world experience gives them a leg up on the competition when it comes to getting accepted to both college and graduate programs, as well as being hired for a job, or getting promoted further down the road.


Discover What You Don’t Like Doing

Perhaps the most decisive benefit to taking a gap year would be discovering what you don’t want to do. Gap years are for experimenting. They can be highly structured but are often personalized and more experiential, which allows for a change in direction or focus. Gap years are a time to concentrate more on a particular passion you have or hobby you’d like to explore more, and, as a result, address any doubts you have in pursuing these things further.


Who knew delaying college just one year could yield empathetic, global citizens who are more prepared to make life-altering decisions on their education, career, and goals? Gap years give young people a better sense of self, their values, what they want out of life, and what they can contribute to society. Gap years prepare students to make the exceedingly adult decision of what direction they want to take their life after school. So we want to ask you, “where are you gapping this fall?”.


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Sarah Dilworth

Contributing Writer

Sarah Dilworth is an international education advocate, marketing professional, and freelance writer. Born and raised just outside Baltimore, Maryland, attended college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and earned her master's degree in Dublin, Ireland, Sarah recently received her Irish citizenship and currently resides in Argentina. She spends her free time learning Spanish, practicing yoga, dancing the tango, scouring vintage markets, and eating her way through the various barrios of Buenos Aires.

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