The Gap Year: Is it good for college bound students?

Students hear conflicting ideas about taking a gap year after high school. What factors should students consider when deciding whether to take one?

By Hunter Hufstutler

For many years now, there has been growing popularity behind the idea of taking a “gap year” before starting college. This means that many graduating high school seniors are deciding to take a year off before going straight back to school. Many teachers and parents disagree with the concept of taking a year off, while others actually encourage this path for students considering it. However, before making a decision, it is important for students to understand the pros and cons for each side of the argument.

This trend of taking a year off between schooling can be traced back to the European tradition of high school students taking a year off to travel the world, volunteer, and explore life through real world experiences. There are even programs dedicated to helping students get the most out of taking a gap year. Some of these programs feature volunteer experience, travel opportunities, cross-cultural experience, and foreign language learning.

The most frequently expressed opinion about taking a gap year is from those who believe it is a bad idea. Many parents and teachers stress that taking a gap year can be unfavorable to students, and their fears are completely reasonable. Writer Kim Oppelt, a former high school counselor, said that a gap year “can fall short for students who are not self-motivated, for those who are not looking to develop their sense of self, or for students who lack planning and organization skills.” There is a large number of students who go into their year off with absolutely no plans for what they want to accomplish during their time away from school. In circumstances like this, it is highly unlikely that a gap year will benefit a student if they are not motivated for improvement.

“I just knew I would be generally interested in engineering. I did consider taking a year off, but I felt the transition would be smooth enough and I was confident in my ability to learn.”

On the other hand, however, many people express a positive opinion towards students taking a gap year. First, going into college blindly can be harmful for many lower income students. They go into college unsure of their major, and as they go through college, they may change their major multiple times or even end up switching schools, which will greatly increase their student debt. “Gap-year students also have higher career satisfaction than non-gappers, according to a 2015 survey conducted by AGA and Temple University,” said Ethan Knight, executive director of the American Gap Association (AGA).

Former Central high school student Brad Dahlke chose to go straight into college at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology after graduating. “I didn’t really have a complete idea of what I was going to pursue when I graduated,” he said. “I just knew I would be generally interested in engineering. I did consider taking a year off, but I felt the transition would be smooth enough and I was confident in my ability to learn so I decided to go straight into college.” After talking to Brad about how he had changed from a computer engineering major to an electrical engineering major he added, “I would recommend that if you are unsure of where you want to go to college or what general line of work you want to be in, then take a year off to prepare.”

Overall, there is no straight answer to give every graduating high school student. Some people go straight into college and face no obstacles, while others change their majors multiple times and accrue large amounts of student debt. Some people opt to take a gap year, which ultimately helps in preparing and motivating them for the next stage in their life, while others take a gap year that eventually leaves them more confused and worse off than when they graduated. The key is to take time to truly reflect on your life and what you would like to do in the future. Think about the goals you want to reach, and take the steps necessary to achieve them, regardless of what other people say.

Photo: In the Distance by Angus MacRae on Flickr