Gap years between high school and college are commonly viewed as a rite of passage in countries around the globe, especially in Europe.
Slowly, parents and students in the United States are waking up and realizing the awesome benefits straying from the traditional path provides; however, while gap years grow more and more popular, high school guidance counselors still resist recommending them to their college-bound students. Even though America’s most prestigious schools—Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, to name but a few—actively advise their incoming freshmen to take a gap year, counselors cling to the notion that time away from the classroom will harm a student’s academic career. This is simply not the case. In fact, evidence suggests that a gap year actually improves a student’s chance to succeed in both college and at life!
Here are the five most compelling reasons guidance counselors recommend gap years.
1. Higher college GPAs
One study conducted by Bob Clagett, Former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, shows that undergraduates who took a gap year before college had, on average, a GPA 0.1 to 0.4 higher than expected. Studies demonstrate that a gap year allow students to develop their minds more holistically through first-hand exploration and experiential learning, while also having the opportunity to stop and reflect on who they are and what they’ve learned so far. It only makes sense that a break from the academic cycle has the power to “recharge” a student’s academic batteries after 13 years of rigorous schooling.
Middlebury student Peter Kiley-Bergin spent his gap year as an exchange student in Switzerland. In an interview with The Middlebury Campus, Peter said, “I was able to just live for a year. I didn’t have to try things I didn’t care about and only had to learn what I wanted to. All of us are on what is, at times, a ridiculous academic treadmill and to have a year in the middle of my youth without any academic stress is very special.”
When students pursue what interests them, they develop or, in some cases, re-develop their intellectual curiosity.
2. More likely to graduate college
According to the US Department of Education, only 59 percent of all students who enroll in a four year college ever graduate. Sometimes teens give in to social pressures and follow the traditional path straight from high school to college, and while this may work for some students, studies suggest that many students enter college too soon and for the wrong reasons.
A gap year offers a much better option for these students: gap years also have the power to reverse the decline in college graduation rates. A recent Global Citizen Year study shows that “students who took gap years are 94 percent more likely to graduate on time.” This is due, in part, to not having to transfer universities.
A study conducted by the Gap Year Association also suggest that gappers are 50 percent less likely to transfer. As to why this positive trend is occurring, Katherine Stievater, founder of Boston-based consulting firm Gap Year Solutions, states that taking a gap year is similar to students “going into college with a ‘fire in their belly’ to start another four year of academics.”
3. Arriving to college more mature
After a year of tremendous personal growth, gappers arrive at college more mature and ready to face adversity head-on. According to the Princeton Review, “the number one reason students are dropping out of college is due to a lack of non-academic skills.” These “soft-skills” might include time management, knowing how to network with peers and professors, being able to think outside the box, independence, and confidence in making big decisions.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology by Andrew J. Martin demonstrates that a structured gap year can provide students with the key tools they need to succeed at college: “Former ‘gappers’ reported significantly higher motivation in college—in the form of ‘adaptive behavior’ such as planning, task management, and persistence—than did students who did not take a gap year.” Arriving to college with soft-skills has proven to be incredibly important, and a gap year can help someone develop through real-world learning.
4. More active on campuses and the global stage
Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College Greg Buckles states, “The [gap] students who enroll here in February bring more to their college experience and, as a result, derive more from it. They also hold a disproportionately high number of leadership positions on campus and, on average, perform better academically.” After having control over their lives for an entire year, gappers know that college, and life in general, is what you make of it–they certainly don’t sit idle and let life pass them by! Gappers realize that you’re on your own as an adult, and if you don’t do something no one’s going to be there do it for you.
Besides campus engagement, many gappers also take an active roles in both their local and global communities. A recent survey conducted by the Gap Year Association affirms that the majority of gap students (72 percent) are inspired to become more active local or global volunteers. Gap years teach the next generation to be both responsible leaders and global citizens who will thrive in the modern, interconnected world.
5. Career satisfaction
Many gappers go on to lead productive and satisfying careers that stem directly from their gap years. This is likely because, after a year of personal growth and development, gappers better understand how they want to invest in their futures. A Milkround graduate recruitment gap year survey demonstrate that 88 percent of gap year graduates report that their gap year had significantly added to their employability. It goes to show, gappers discover their passions and have the confidence to pursue them; they also tend to be happy with their career choices once they graduate.
An independent study of 280 gap year students conducted by Karl Haigler & Rae Nelson finds that this is related to a less selfish approach to working with people and careers. With EQ skills now competing with IQ in workforce, taking a gap year teaches valuable lessons that are often unavailable in a classroom. In taking a step away from the traditional path, a gap years offer someone unprecedented time to discover what truly interests them; the end result is typically a more informed career choice.
Helen, seasoned traveler and EF Gap Year alum, offers her advice on how to live in the moment while traveling abroad—advice that she practiced personally…