Taking a “gap year” before they continue their education has become popular among high school graduates in recent years. After 12 years of school, some believe that they need time to breathe and figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
Aside from exploring their options, students gain time to save money, intern, travel and focus on mental health.
Some colleges encourage incoming freshman students, who applied as high school seniors and already have a guaranteed place at the school, to defer enrollment for a year. This practice is more common in the United Kingdom and Australia, but is gaining traction in the United States at schools including Princeton University, which encourages students to first take advantage of opportunities abroad.
Many factors exist about why gap years hasn’t been as popular in the U.S. as in the UK and Australia.
“America relies too heavily on the language of work ethic, believing that anyone who opts for something other than a 9-to-5 life is lazy or lacking ambition,” writes Lilit Marcus in The Grindstone. “A gap year is just a year, but it’s a period where young Americans could grow as individuals, explore their goals without making a financial investment, and learn about potential careers.”
2017 NCC graduate Katie Hahn recalled her time away from school, saying, “I went to LCCC for less than a year after high school and dropped out at 19 because I thought I knew everything.”
At age 24, she decided to enroll in the Nursing program at NCC. During her five years away from school, she said, she “worked a lot and partied a lot,” and eventually started to grow up when she became pregnant at 23. “I knew I wanted to set a better example for my child.”
Reflecting on her decision to take time off from school, Hahn says that she was “young and dumb, but I’m grateful that I got some sense into me once I became a mom. I feel weird when I’m not in school – I never thought I’d like it so much.”
Some high school graduates feel pressure to jump into the next chapter of their lives without being able to process everything that has happened leading up to college.
“I felt like society expects us to have life figured out by the age of 24 – a time where we are still trying to understand life and who we are as individuals,” said Nyingi Banigo, UK lifestyle blogger and graduate of Kings College Class of 2017.
Banigo decided she needed a break from studying and have the time to think about whether she wanted to continue in her Master’s program in psychology. After her gap year was finished, she said, she felt “energetic, motivated, enthusiastic, excited and eager to learn more,” concluding “that was the best decision I made for myself.”
Some may argue that students likely will not continue their education after taking a year off, but statistics show that 90 percent returned to college within a year, feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next chapter of their lives.
“My friend is taking a year off right now, said NCC’s Andrew Vega, a Sports Medicine major. “It gave her a lot more time to think about what she wanted to do with her life. She now feels so much more prepared than if she didn’t make that decision. She plans on coming to NCC next semester and majoring in Interior Design.”
David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said that taking a gap year “could actually help students succeed in college.”
Given that so many college freshman have an undeclared major and the rest are likely to change their major at least once before graduating, taking time off could help them have a clearer idea what they want.