College decision time. Now is when you’re hearing back from colleges and thinking about your next big step toward the future. You’re lucky if you’ve already gotten into your first-choice school to begin a degree program in your dream career. You’re also in a minority. Studies show that a growing percentage of graduating high school seniors are less sure about the right pathway to success—especially if they aren’t getting into a school they feel excited about. This time of year, many students are even questioning whether going straight to college is the right choice. They (and their parents) worry it’s too big an investment—both financially and emotionally—for them just to say yes and hope for the best. Maybe that’s why more students than ever before are now taking a gap year between high school and college. Below you’ll find the top five reasons why. Do any of these sound like you?
1. Recharge your love of learning
If you’re like many graduating high school seniors, you probably suffer from academic burnout. You’ve been in school for most of your life, sprinting to get good grades, study for college entrance exams, and enhance your college application with after-school clubs, sports, and community service work. You’re just not sure you’re up for four more years of school without a break. By taking a gap year, you’re giving yourself permission to hit the pause button. It’s not a break from learning—you’re actively exploring the world, learning new languages, serving worthwhile causes, and gaining internship experience—you’re just taking a break from the pressures of traditional academic life. It does pay off, by the way. Gap students actually earn better grades in college than traditional students, according to Robert Claggett, former dean of Middlebury College. That’s because they find new passions to pursue and rekindle their love of learning.
2. Find a clearer sense of purpose
If you’re just not sure what you want out of college—or even life—you’re not alone. Recent studies show that fewer than 40% of American freshmen end up graduating in four years. The majority switch degrees, transfer schools, or drop out of college altogether. Experts believe this is most likely due to students lacking well-defined goals at the outset. By contrast, gap year students are more enthusiastic about college and better prepared for the university experience than traditional students, according to a recent Middlebury College/UNC Chapel Hill survey. Though you begin college a year later, you do so with a much clearer sense of purpose. A gap year gives you the space to reassess your personal, educational, and career goals, and come up with a vision for the future that really works for you. “I’ve learned more than I ever learned in a classroom,” says Abigail Gilchrist, who recently returned from her EF Gap Year. “I know now what I want to do with my life, and I didn’t, nor would I, if I had gone straight to college.”
3. Grow as a person
Are you worried, like many high school graduates, that you’re not quite ready for the independence and responsibilities of college life? As a gap student, you can focus part of your time away on working on your life skills getting to know yourself better. It’s a worthwhile investment. The vast majority of gap students feel, on their return home, that they’ve transformed as a person and taken their first big step into adulthood. According to a recent Gap Year Association survey, 97% feel more mature, 96% feel more self-confident, and nearly three-quarters feel more socially responsible.
4. Gain real-world experience
One of the best ways to grow as a person is through real-life experiences. Are you itching get out there and start checking items off your bucket list? As a gap student, you could make experiencing more of the world firsthand a priority: seeing the view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, becoming fluent in Spanish by living with a host family in Barcelona, restoring coral reefs in the Dominican Republic, interning in the fashion industry at a designer in Milan. Why not enter college a true global citizen?
5. Get into a better school next year
It’s a fact: applying for admission to top-tier colleges and universities is more competitive than ever. With fewer spots available, many good students are just not getting into their first-choice schools. If you’re not excited about attending your safety school, consider delaying the college decision for a year to make yourself more marketable to your dream school. A gap year can help you build academic and leadership skills. It can also help you enhance your college application with service learning and internship experiences abroad. Many students who apply—or reapply—to colleges after their gap year report they are happier with the caliber of schools they get into.
What’s the most important statistic at college decision time to keep in mind if you’re considering a gap year as an alternative to going straight to school? Over 90% of gap students enroll in college the very next year. They just do so more enthusiastic, more mature, better prepared, with a world of amazing experiences under their belts.