We can address the gap year virtues for these four types of students: 1) the focused, 2) the semi-focused, 3) the unfocused and 4) the immature.
1) The focused. For the students who already have a post-college plan, a Gap Year can be the “second interest indulgence” they won’t be able to do once on a pre-med or computer science track. Playing music one more year, participating in a sport one more year, learning in England or Italy for a year, helping a family member with her business for a year, building a business for a year or even spending a year reading 100 great books are indulgences that the focused student deserves. Some students who have a post-college focus can take a Gap Year in their field! They get real work experience and the preparation to be even better students once on campus.
2) The semi-focused student. This student thinks she will major in a certain field, but is still unsure. She doesn’t want to waste a year in college on a degree she might not complete or pay for five years of education instead of four. So, instead of paying money for college, she can earn money for a year or two, working full time with no formal studies. She takes two minimum wage jobs or two non-paying internships in places where she can experience what those who enter the workforce in their 20s do. She figures out more about what to expect in a career and she writes great college applications that show action, not just supposition.
3) The unfocused student. Unfocused students who choose the Gap Year get a double blessing. As high school seniors, they get to remove themselves from the whirlwind activity of college admissions that they are not ready for. During the fall of senior year, unfocused students realize that they have too much to do and no time. They feel pressured to visit college campuses, missing time in school that they really need. The planned Gap Year can be a relief from this stress. A year or two after graduation, they arrive on campus more focused than before and often more focused than the other students. “We’ve taken the pressure off” is often the best thing parents can say to help their child flourish. When presented correctly, the unfocused students can know they are going places after their Gap Year; they just need more time to get there.
4) The immature student. Immature students also get dual benefits from a Gap Year. The more apparent one is a year to grow and become more prepared for the independence of college. The real world of internships and paid work brings maturity faster than a year in college. The less obvious reason, and the more immediate blessing, is that most immature students know they aren’t ready for college; they are daunted by the prospect of four years in a new environment with older kids and being away from mom and dad. The planned Gap Year can help!
By “planned Gap Year,” we imply that the thought process ideally begins during junior year. A whole new world of opportunity opens up for students and makes senior year more fulfilling without the pressure of college pending.
Regarding planning, Malia Obama is not a model for the rest of us. She has the distinct advantage of being the president’s daughter and likely did not face a long application process for Harvard. The rest of us have to plan things out. Application processes take time; the more prestigious or selective the program, the more months of lead time you need.
You don’t have to be ashamed of taking a Gap Year while the rest of your classmates head off to college right away. You will still graduate with your high school class, sign yearbooks and attend their graduation parties. There is also no stigma associated with arriving on a college campus at an older age than the other freshmen. Mature 17-year-olds interact with 20-year-olds on college campuses routinely. By sophomore year, when elective courses are an option, almost every college class will have three grade levels worth of students.
A Gap Year offers an experience you can never get back. It can help create a strong foundation to a tower of future success.