Before the announcement of Malia Obama’s choice to take a “Gap Year” between high school and her first year at Harvard, many families have been internally wrestling with the idea. Is it the right thing for my child? Will they be able to get admitted later? Will they lose track and end up not attending/graduating? These are the types of questions that leave parents worried, while children wonder how best to shape their own education. If you are trying to figure out if a gap year is a good idea, let’s consider the pros and cons to balance a decision.
An academic breather: Staying totally focused on academics can be a high-stress process. For some students, a gap year provides the space necessary to transition out of a high school routine and into more real-life opportunities. Students can adjust their stress and refocus on their interests without the distractions of a high school environment.
Volunteering: A gap year may be a great opportunity to carry on with fulfilling volunteer work in your community. This can even extend into opportunities to travel to new places as part of the process. There are organizations that help connect students with volunteer opportunities around the world specifically for their gap year. Some students find great satisfaction providing such service and may learn more about their own goals and motivations as a result.
Get on the job training: Gaining employment is another great option for students fresh out of high school. Some will thrive in a work environment where they can learn new skills on the job, interact with people professionally, grow a resume and even make valuable new contacts. Most of the time, gap year students can expect service related jobs like working at restaurants, helping children, teaching English or even work as a ski instructor if so able. It’s probably a good idea to flex financial literacy and make sure to save money earned from these jobs to help pay for education
Risk of Admission: Some students believe a gap year can improve their chances to be admitted to their top choice school, but this may not be the case. Students may need some concrete academically oriented accomplishments during gap year to stay on track for admission to elite schools. There are always exceptions, but one cannot assume a gap year will improve their chances to be admitted if it was not possible just after high school graduation.
Failure to progress: It turns out that some students do not thrive in the gap year and end up wasting their time. It’s critical that no matter what a student does during a gap year, they grow and develop positive habits as a result. For some, gap year becomes more like an unstructured series of events and parties where little positive gains are made. Approach the entire process with a big-picture mentality and be conscientious about what real benefits are gained through the experiences.
Financial issues: Without a solid plan, taking a gap year could be a financial flop. Students need to carefully consider how they can afford to pursue their interests while they cover their living expenses. Providing volunteer work is great, but life does cost money so students need to project their budgets in advance to stay afloat. Parents need to communicate with their children regarding financial expectations during a gap year. This way, clear boundaries are established so students can take financial control of their lives.