It’s pretty wild that while the gap year has been around since the 1960s, the concept has only become widely known over the last decade. Students today are under more pressure than ever before and the financial burden of college (and student loans) continues to loom large—which makes it paramount that they spend their time and money wisely. On top of all that, with college experiences permanently altered by the ongoing pandemic, students across the country are now rethinking their educational plans.
Global pandemic notwithstanding, taking a gap year can have a profound impact on your life, from your college experience to your career and beyond. Here are the three biggest benefits of taking a gap year.
The fact of the matter is, success in college requires a totally new set of skills outside of the scope of the high school environment–in addition to academic aptitude, students need discipline, emotional maturity, and social skills to truly thrive. More often than not, students leave high school feeling unprepared for what’s ahead. In a national survey from 2015, over half of high school students surveyed said they didn’t feel prepared for college, even though the vast majority intended on going.1
When you take a gap year, you step away from the safe, structured environment of school and your home life. You learn how to be on your own: how to manage your time, take care of yourself, and navigate the world alone. You gain confidence and learn how to interact with different types of people. Moreover, a gap year allows you to take a break from traditional academics and tap into your own interests and passions; this can help reignite your love of learning and may even make you more motivated to go back to school! You might even figure out your desired area of study, lowering the chance you’ll need to change your major (and take additional classes) later on.
Unsurprisingly, all of this translates to a more successful college experience. A recent study conducted by Middlebury and UNC Chapel Hill found that students who took a gap year earned GPAs that were .1 to .4 points higher than their peers, even when controlling for other factors. Gap year alumni are also more likely to graduate within four years, compared to the national average of six years, and they tend to take on more leadership roles on campus.2 These gap year benefits are college benefits, too.
What does a successful transition into adulthood look like? In addition to independence and confidence, there are a few key qualities that will get you far in life–and all of these can be cultivated by taking a gap.
The first is having a growth mindset. The Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck famously discovered that having a growth mindset is the number one trait underpinning creative achievement. Having a growth mindset means you believe your talents are not fixed, but constantly growing—that you’ve developed a passion for learning rather than a need for approval. Taking a gap year can help you cultivate a growth mindset and see every challenge as a growth opportunity.
The second is adaptability. Bruce Feiler, author of the New York Times bestseller Life is in the Transitions, writes that people today will go through more life transitions than ever before. Gone are the days of the predictable, linear path; the average person will likely go through several big changes in career, family, love, and more. Similarly, adaptability is one of the traits most valued by employers. Taking a gap takes you far outside your comfort zone and teaches you how to adapt in the face of uncertainty, setbacks, and new environments.
Finally, you’ll gain “soft skills.” In a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92 percent said soft skills such as clear communication, getting along with others, and critical thinking were equally or more important than technical skills. Yet 89 percent of these same executives said they had a difficult time finding job candidates with these skills.3 Taking a gap can give you the opportunity to work on these soft skills as you learn how to conduct yourself in different real-world settings. They’ll help you no matter what career you decide to pursue; after all, who knows what jobs will exist in 10 or 20 years?
As any wise adult will tell you success in life is about so much more than your intelligence and your achievements: it’s about your mindset, your resilience, and your ability to connect to others–and these are the things that simply can’t be learned inside the classroom.
Ultimately, in order to make progress in life, you need to know where you’re going.
As a student in the American school system, you’re expected to finish high school, go straight to college, and then graduate and move on to the working world. Somewhere along that journey, you’re expected to figure out what to major in, what career path to embark on, and other big life questions that can profoundly affect the rest of your life.
When we’re in school, busy studying for exams and following the herd, it can be hard to break away from the grind and figure out what we’re really working towards. Moreover, most American teens simply don’t know what’s out there beyond their tiny sliver of the world.
A gap year can serve as a window to the world that reflects us back to ourselves. Whether you trek across Thailand or get a part-time job in a nearby city, you’ll expose yourself to different kinds of people, places, and ways of life. You’ll take yourself out of the grind of your usual life and give yourself space to think about what really matters to you. In a recent survey conducted by the Gap Year Association, 60% of gap year alumni say their gap year helped define their career path, and 77% said it helped them find their purpose in life.4
So, there you have it—the three biggest gap year benefits.
Feeling convinced that taking a gap year is the right move for you? Consider traveling with EF Gap Year: our programs are designed around immersive travel experiences that help students grow, gain real skills, and discover their passions.
1 Recent survey conducted by Youth Truth®
2 Middlebury College/UNC Chapel Hill
3 Wall Street Journal. “Employers Find 'Soft Skills' Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply” https://www.wsj.com/articles/employers-find-soft-skills-like-critical-thinking-in-short-supply-1472549400
4 Recent survey conducted by the American Gap Association
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