The Gap Year: Who Should and Who Shouldn't

Recently, Malia Obama announced her decision to take a year off before attending Harvard University. And although taking a year off between high school and college is a popular option for students around the world, it’s still a source of debate here in the U.S.

According an article  featured in Time magazine, there’s no reason why a student shouldn’t take a gap year. Burned-out students get a break before diving into heavy college courses. Work experiences better direct students into major/career paths. Volunteering provides opportunities for students to give back and mature. And, surprisingly, gap years also bolster academic performance: a senior admissions officer at Harvard found that students who take gap years are reported to be stronger students and get higher GPAs by about .15-.2.

A gap year is the perfect solution, and challenge, for some students. If a student is self-motivated, she’ll perform better. If she took the time to discover what her major will be, she’ll be more dedicated. And if she spent the last year working part-time she has the chance to be more financially invested. All of these situations infuse more meaning in one’s college experience.

But the gap year is not for everyone. Not all universities allow students to defer. For example, many schools, like Pepperdine, require that students re-apply after taking a year off. Gap years are spendy too: travelling, living away from home, or working low-wage jobs (or not getting paid at all) causes financial strain on many families. Very few can afford to finance a formal gap year averaging $30,000.

Is it worth it? Should we follow the international and White House trend and push students out the door and into the real world with diploma in hand? Or should we direct them towards the freshman dorms come August?

I quickly entered college after my high school years, and it’s a decision that I do not regret. Knowing that I was going to a university was the distant, but bright, light that guided me through AP tests and calmed my severe case of senioritis. My preparation and self-motivation helped me make a smooth transition my freshman year. I benefitted from a vibrant campus life, and the friendships that I made helped me gain a better understanding of myself and what I wanted to study. Unfortunately for some of my peers, it was a bit harder. Many floundered during their undergraduate years as they changed majors, transferred schools, and spent way too much money. That’s how it is for a lot of students. Maybe, in the end, the money spent on a gap year would be a lot cheaper than piles of student loans accumulating a 4.3% interest rate per year. In the meantime, we’ll see how the upcoming year shakes out for Malia.