The term “gap year” may bring up certain emotions of confusion, concern or uncertainty. For some, the term “gap year” can provoke an image of an 18 year old lounging on the beach, running around a foreign country, or simply wasting their time and their parents money. However, the gap year gets a bad reputation without students and their parents truly understanding the meaning of a much needed mental break and how that break can be used to the student’s advantage.

First, let’s clear up the scary confusion of the elusive “gap year”. Taking a gap year does NOT mean that a student does not go to college, nor does it mean that a student will NEVER go to college. Actually it is the opposite. In reality, 99% of students go on to college after their gap year and 94% graduate in 4 years. A gap year is simply an alternative way for a student to transition to college, while learning valuable life skills and lessons that they were unable to learn in high school or in the classroom. Students still go through the entire college application process, the only difference is that the student will then ask the college to defer their acceptance until the following year. This extra time to transition gives students a space to mature, heal and a year of recovery after pushing their brain to the limit. We understand the idea of delaying college may seem scary or daunting, but if the gap year is used appropriately, the benefits could put anyone at ease.

The gap year is completely designed around the student and their strengths. How they spend their time does not need to be limited to one specific year-long experience. The gap year can actually be multiple experiences at the same time or some that are done consecutively that have nothing to do with one another. Some examples include work and internships, travel and adventure, service and volunteer, wildlife, language and culture, and the list goes on and on. Students have the option to choose from a variety of programs and experiences, they just need to plan accordingly, do their research and compare their options. This is not “time off”; this is time to learn skills outside of the classroom setting.

The number one reason a student drops out of college is because of lack of non-academic skills. Students are constantly running on a “wheel” of academics and extracurriculars that they become so programmed and conditioned they do not know how to make their own choices. The gap year is meant to correct this problem and some colleges even recommend it! UNC, Tufts, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton are just a few of the schools who encourage their students to delay their acceptances. Fred A. Hargadon, former Dean of Admissions at Princeton University, said that he encouraged students to take gap years because “one’s college education is greatly enhanced by the maturity, experience, and perspective a student can bring post gap year.” Employers also have been known to endorse a gap year and may even prefer students who took a gap year because the students have learned how to be self-sufficient and have had unique opportunities to learn about themselves. Employers have found these personal skills to be beneficial in the workplace.

Aren’t gap years expensive? Will my child feel left behind and not get the “true college experience” if they start a year later? These are the biggest questions that most parents fear when considering a gap year for their child and also the biggest myths. In reality, there are gap year programs that can fit any budget. For the programs that are more pricey, students can find opportunities to work to earn money for their program. This is another benefit for the student because it gives them a stake in the game and another growing experience where students can learn value of the dollar and responsibility. In terms of being left behind and not having a true “college experience”, students actually have reported the opposite to be true. Being a year older gives gap year students the opportunity to learn tips from their friends who were just freshmen and instead of feeling behind they actually feel ahead because of their new sense of maturity and life skills.

Overall, the gap year is not for every student, but it is a great option and should be considered in a new light for the student who may not be sure if they want to dive head first into the collegiate atmosphere right after high school.