Gap Year(s) and Why They’re Trending

When Malia Obama decided to take a gap year before starting college at Harvard, it made the world sit up and notice. The news spread like wildfire, not just because one of the Obama’s’ was involved but also because the concept of a gap year had captured the imagination of the public. A number of questions arose, “ What is a gap year?”, “Why do students need a gap year?”, “What do students do during a gap year?” and so on.

In very simple terms, a gap year is an experiential semester or year “on,” typically taken between high school and college or after college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.

Despite the financial challenges and stigma surrounding a gap year, it has many benefits to offer. Universities today have understood this and as a result they not only accept applicants who have taken gap years but also actively encourage admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel or pursue a special project or activity. According to study abroad organization CIEE, Harvard College alone has seen a 33 percent increase in the number of their incoming students taking gap years!

If you’re a student mulling over the idea of taking a gap year and are wondering if it is worth the effort, then do give this blog a read! Given below are the reasons we think why a gap year will do wonders for your personal and professional growth.

Personal Growth

1.Keeps you from Burning Out

One of the most promising articles on this subject, “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation”  by William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Harvard College describes how pressuring K-12 schooling has become and notes how training for college scholarships or professional contracts begins early, even in grammar school. He further wrote,“Faced with the fast pace of growing up today, some students are clearly distressed, engaging in binge drinking and other self-destructive behaviors. It is common to encounter even the most successful students, who have won all the “prizes,” stepping back and wondering if it was all worth it.”

In fact according to an article by Wall Street Journal,  “Burnout from the competitive pressures of high school is one of the top two reasons why students take a gap year.”

If you also face the heat and pressure of your school or college, a gap year could be a fantastic way to recharge your batteries. It is a chance for students to take a breath and do something that doesn’t require them to ask, ‘How will this look on my college application? As a result, rather than losing motivation or study-skills, you come back refreshed and rejuvenated. Data by American Gap Association  which states, “Taking a 1-year break between high school and university allows motivation for and interest in study to be renewed” supports this claim.

2. A Better Sense of Self

An article by Wall Street Journal stated, “ Apart from the burnout, the desire to find out more about oneself is another top reason for taking a gap year.” A gap year will enable you to achieve this in three ways. One, taking a gap year essentially means taking time off from a hectic life of final examinations, preparing for college interviews or achieving professional deadlines. It allows you to take a step back and introspect. Gives you the time to understand yourself, your skills and interest. Challenging yourself while on a gap year is another way . You might decide to go trekking through a jungle, climb a mountain for charity or volunteer in a developing country. These challenges push you out of your comfort zone, make you face your fears, enjoy new experiences and in the process help you discover yourself. Finally, a gap year allows you a unique opportunity to broaden your view of the world.

According to an article by Joe O’ Shea, director of Florida State University’s Office of Undergraduate Research , “We often develop most when our understandings of ourselves and the world around us are challenged, when we engage with people and ideas that are different. Trying to occupy another’s way of life in a different culture — living with a new family, speaking the language, integrating into a community, perhaps working with local youth, for instance are valuable experiences that help young people understand themselves, develop empathy and virtue, and expand their capacity to see the world from others’ perspectives.”

Professional Growth

1. More Clarity about What to Pursue Next

You might have observed your friends or classmates committing themselves to one area of study, and when they realize it’s not for them, they swap to a completely different major. By doing so not only do they lose out precious time but it also increases the financial burden. If you are in the same boat, then a gap year will do you no harm. In fact it will allow you to put things into perspective and make you more certain of the major you want to pursue.

According to Joe O’ Shea, “Many students overseas who take gap years in between colleges end up changing their intended major after returning as their gap year experiences enrich their courses, strengthen co-curricular endeavors, and animate undergraduate research and creative projects. Therefore taking that crucial time off can help give them the direction they need to confidently choose a major, and ultimately, a career they’re passionate about.”

2. Improved Performance in College

Who doesn’t want good grades and shining comments from the professors? Even the“backbenchers” secretly desire it, whether they accept it or not! Attending classes and studying hard is surely one tried and tested way of doing it, however it is not always a success. Sometimes taking a long break from studying can work wonders for your academic performance.

Robert Clagett, who served as a senior admissions officer at Harvard and is also the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College,recently designed a methodology to track gap year students’ over/underperformance of GPA. He found that students who took a gap year almost always outperformed academically in college as they are relax, rejuvenated and as a result more involved in the campus. Most importantly, the positive effect of taking a gap year was demonstrated to persist throughout the college years.

3. Develop Useful Contacts

Taking a gap year will not only help you forge some lifelong friendships, but also give you an opportunity to build your professional network. Throughout your journey you will meet a range of different people from all walks of life who will either provide you with job opportunities or with references at some point in the future.

4. Gain Relevant Work Experience and Skills for Securing Employment

A gap year doesn’t just allow you to relax, travel around the world or help develop a circle of contacts . It is a powerful medium enabling you to gain skills and experiences that would most certainly help you score your dream job !

According to an article by Institution of Engineering and Technology,  “Past survey commissioned by gapyear.com showed that 85 per cent of HR executives questioned, felt that relevant work experience is more valuable to a job seeker than an average non-vocational degree, and 65 per cent believed that a constructive gap year spent volunteering or gaining work experience overseas made a job application stand out.

From the above data it is very clear that employers are actively encouraging people to take gap years to earn skills and ‘life experience’. Some of the key employability skills gained include organization, communication, teamwork, independence, social skills, decision-making, self-sufficiency, time management, budgeting, using initiative, improved self-confidence, leadership and developed maturity.

It is safe to say that what used to be an experiment earlier is nowadays an informed choice. Gap years aren’t meant for sitting idly and watching re runs of your favourite sitcoms. In order for a gap year to be successful, it is very important for you to first understand, why you are taking a year off? If that is clear then the next step would be to create a plan of action aligned with your interests and learning needs . If you can do this, then a gap year might just turn out to be the unparalleled experience you were hoping for.

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