The concept of taking a gap year has been around for a long time, but lately the popularity of the gap year is increasing as high profile students such as Malia Obama opt to take a year out before joining Harvard. According to some reports, there has been a 23% increase in gap year students in the US as of 2016. In fact, more and more prestigious colleges and universities are strongly advocating students take a gap year before joining college. Harvard has seen a 33% increase in gap year students, and even MIT has seen a substantial increase in the number of students opting for a gap year. Institutions such as Tufts, Princeton and The University of North Carolina even have service-based gap year programs and fellowships built into their admissions process. If you haven’t thought about it yet, here are three reasons to get you thinking about why a gap year might be an excellent idea to consider –
- Better Equipped: According to a 2015 survey conducted by American Gap Association, 98% students felt that a gap year helped them develop as an individual, 97% felt it increased their maturity and 77% felt it helped them discover their purpose in life. 73% felt a gap year also increased their readiness for college. Often, taking a year off helps a student become more confident, adaptable and independent, while also discovering what direction to head academically and professionally.
- Better Performance: Taking a gap year prevents students from feeling burnt out after an intensive high school experience – rejuvenation goes a long way. In fact, Robert Clagett, who was previously a senior admissions officer at Harvard, pointed out in an interview that students who take a year between high school and college tend to have a .15 to .2 increase in GPA. And, contrary to popular myth, taking a gap year does not demotivate a student from pursuing a college education – 90% return to college within a year!
- Valuable Experiences: Often a student can use a gap year to immerse themselves in various experiences, ranging from travel and volunteer work to an internship and research project – these memorable experiences can help you develop important capabilities, including career-related skills such as time management, find their true passion and calling, and enhance communication skills, perspective and exposure to the real world. Author of Gap to Great, Andrea Wien spoke with many students who took a gap year and mentioned there are three key characteristics researchers have identified in gap year students, “supporting/cooperating, leading/deciding and adapting/coping,” which are integral in the long-run.
One student I worked with, Utsav Gupta, spent his gap year interning at Reva Auto Industries, working toward solving air pollution woes in Delhi, alongside also working at a student-run startup called WorkTeen as a Data Collector and later Head of Operations (Delhi); he also participated as a founding member, Director of Finances and Regional Head (North India) of South Asia Foundation of Youth (SAFY) to work toward uniting the youth of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. “My gap year provided me a glimpse into the real world,” shared Gupta. “While I had started my gap year as a hardcore STEM supporter who looked down on ‘softer’ subjects, I found that they were really the glue holding our world together. My interpersonal skills improved vastly, as I was forced to come out of my comfort zone. My stint at SAFY honed my negotiation skills; my job at WorkTeen taught me about the power of presentations and business pitches. During my internship at Reva, I gained practical skills, by using relevant technologies and was immersed in the application of coding.
While a gap year is not necessary for everyone, it certainly offers many advantages, especially if there are experiences and projects you want to try out before jumping into a three to four-year college program and committing to a particular academic major. As Gupta aptly puts it, “I strongly recommend taking a gap year … according to me it has been a year at the ‘University of Life’ that helped me develop the elusive ‘well-rounded personality’ that highly-selective schools seek.”