– Adam Lips, Emory University, Admissions
For many students, the frenzied, non-stop trek to college begins their first day in high school. And, after four years of study, SAT exams and AP classes, some students are exhausted. That’s why more and more universities are recommending what’s called a “gap” year between high school and college.
Graduation is just around the corner: the end of 12 years of school and then, at the end of the summer, many students will begin college. But not Annie van Beunigan.
“This is kind of the center of Paris, and the Sorbonne is right here,” says Annie, 17, pointing to a map of Paris, France.
Before heading to college, Annie is going to spend a year in France.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m pretty sick of school … I worked pretty hard in high school. I was pretty driven and I just want to take a break,” says Annie.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that half of all college students take six years or more to get a Bachelor’s degree – partly because so many begin their freshman year burned out and unfocused. Experts say a year off can help.
“It might give a student a little bit more direction. They may be refreshed after taking a year off from being in an academic situation,” says Adam Lips, Emory University, Admissions.
“My mom took a year off and went to live in France and she said that was the best year of her life. She learned so much and grew up so much and went back to college and was more focused,” says Annie.
“For a lot of people it builds character. It builds maturity and it lets them make the most of that college experience,” says Lips.
Still, delaying college should not be taken lightly.
“There needs to be a great deal of thought put into what a student is going to do during that year so that it’s meaningful to them … not just taking a year off for the sake of taking a year off. It might be traveling, it might be doing some volunteer work, it might be working on a job,” says Lips.
Annie is optimistic about her year abroad.
“You come back with an open mind and you’ve just learned so much stuff. You learn from people who are different from you. You learn about yourself,” says Annie.
Tips for Parents
For some people, the prospect of starting college, especially going away to school, is scary. It's probably the first time that you'll be totally responsible for your own schedule. What if you intend to go to college but just don't feel ready to start or take a full-time job after high school graduation? You might want to take a year off to pause and regroup. This practice is common in some countries, such as the United Kingdom, where it's called a "gap year." (Nemours Foundation)
Taking time off doesn't mean you should ignore the idea of applying to college. In fact, you may want to consider making your college plans before you become involved in other things, especially if you'll be traveling. Apply to schools and make your choice, then ask for a deferred admission. (Nemours Foundation)
Even if you decide not to apply to college, it can be a great idea to take a year to do something you may not have an opportunity to do again. Lots of volunteer organizations would welcome your time and energy and would provide you with a wonderful learning experience. (Nemours Foundation)
If you take a year off, you will likely learn great life skills -- such as living on a tight budget! Plan how you'll pay your way while you're traveling or doing volunteer work. Can you live at home or with friends? Get a part-time job? (Nemours Foundation)
Taking a year off can give you time to clarify your goals and plan for the future. You may be able to earn money to fund future plans, e.g. graduate study. (Durham University)
A gap year may heighten your enthusiasm for further study and work. You may gain new skills valued by employers, such as team working, organizational skills and problem-solving. (Durham University)