Should I take a gap year? (Hint: Yes!)

For many seniors, this is an exciting time of year! Applications are going out. Acceptances are coming in. Good feelings abound.

For other seniors, though, the thought of packing up for college and starting a new academic adventure brings feelings of anxiety, dread, or a general sense that “I’m just not ready for this.” Parents and students alike wonder if we really should be shuttling all these kids straight off to college. Maybe they need a break before moving on. Maybe indeed!

While it's not all that common in the U.S., taking a gap year (between high school and university) is quite common in countries all over the world. Clearly, colleges and universities support the practice, as most schools gladly accept applicants who choose to take a gap year, allow accepted freshmen to defer admission for a year, and encourage enrolled students to study abroad during their enrollment. Notre Dame sets the bar high, with more than 75% of its undergraduates studying abroad during their time at the school. Harvard alone has seen a 33 percent increase in the number of incoming freshman taking a gap year. The numbers are large - and growing.

Taking a gap year between high school and college can be tremendously beneficial to your personal growth, whether you enroll in a structured gap year program, devote yourself to service and volunteering, or simply travel the world. Whatever your path, a gap year can allow you to learn and grow in ways that you really cannot do inside of a classroom.

Here are 10 reasons to say YES to a gap year.

10. You’ll make new friends.
Do you currently have friends in Denmark, Italy, or China? It’s not just cool to have those kinds of friends (although it is!). Their unique perspectives on life will enrich your own as your friendship crosses time and distance. Plus, they’ll give you amazing places (and excuses!) to visit during college breaks and beyond.

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Some things, you can’t learn from a book.

9. You’ll see new things.
”Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” These words are often (correctly or not) attributed to the Dalai Lama. Whether he uttered them or not, these words are wise. Gaining first-hand experiences with people, languages, places, foods, customs, and perspectives we’ve never known can’t help but open our eyes and ears and minds. Whether you spend your gap year 100 miles from home or on the other side of the planet, you are bound to see new sights and, in turn, see familiar things in a new way.

8. You’ll have new adventures.
When else are you going to be 18 years old with no job, no mortgage payments, no significant other, no kids, no homework, and no worries? Never. The answer is never. The world is yours right now. Go see it!

7. You’ll build an amazing resume.
Sometimes, a gap year involves staying in one spot and soaking up its culture, part of which means getting a job. No matter where you work -- a sandwich stand in India or the embassy in London -- you’ll have valuable (international!) experience for your resume and can explain your ability to relate to customers from different cultures. Sometimes a gap year involves traveling all across a country or the world. This, too, leads to important skills and learning experiences that your peers who went straight to college won’t have.

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When else will you have this chance??

(Maybe never?)

6. You’ll learn to adapt.
In your gap year, you’ll have to learn how to integrate into a new group of friends, maybe even a new society with a new language and culture. College requires similar adaptation skills, as does life in general. The only way to learn and develop your ability to adapt is to do it. You’ll be much more prepared for college — and for life — with this experience under your belt.

5. You’ll discover what you love.
Researchers estimate that 75% of college students change majors. It’s nearly impossible for a high school graduate, with limited life experience, to know exactly what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Instead of discovering your passions by taking classes and sitting in lectures, your gap year can help you learn what you love (and what you don’t!) before you get to college. You can reduce your coursework, tuition, and stress if you take time before college to decide how you want to focus your academic experience before you get there.

4. You’ll discover what’s important in life.  
College can be ridiculously fun, but it can also distort your sense of the world at large and what your priorities are. If you’ve had to find your way through the London Underground, catch the bullet train to Kyoto, repair a leaky fresh water pump in Lima, or feed hungry children in Bangladesh, you’re much less likely to fall apart over a lost game of beer pong when you get back. When you’ve experienced the wider world in all its complexity and glory, you’ll have the perspective to separate the trivial from the profound.

3. You’ll be a better global citizen.

Imagine a world where a generation of young people engaged outside the bubble they grew up in through meaningful volunteer work, civil service or ethical travel. They would uncover a truth that is often drowned out by the noise of social media and unconscious prejudice: we are all human, deserving of love, compassion and respect.

2. You’ll have time to think.
Life feels like it’s unfolding fast right now, and in college, things only move faster. Give yourself room to think and breathe and be on long train rides from country to country or in days spent strolling through new towns. Give yourself space to serve others and discover the larger problems facing humanity. You’ll be surprised where your mind wanders when you give it free rein.

1. You’ll actually do better in college!
You might worry that college admissions officials or professors will look down on you for taking a gap year. This isn’t true! Many schools report that gap year students have higher GPAs and are more involved on campus, than their peers who matriculated straight out of high school. That extra year often brings not just experience, but maturity and perspective — all things that help you to be MORE successful in college once you do enroll!

Resources (Just a few to get you started!)

  • A collection of articles about gap years from Huffington Post

  • Americorps - With AmeriCorps, you can choose your path, travel the country, earn $ for school, and make a difference.

  • Habitat for Humanity - You can get paid to serve full-time helping families build strong and stable homes, all while gaining real-world experience. With Habitat AmeriCorps, you will have the opportunity to serve for one year in a community near you or in one of many locations throughout the United States.

  • WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) - WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. As a volunteer, you will live alongside your host helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer.

  • The Jesuit Volunteer Corps - In a culture that values what people have over what they give, JVC is an opportunity to commit to the dignity and well-being of others and let faith ignite in action. They engage young adults in life-changing service, living and working with those in need. They promise “an intense year of taking on the world’s uncomfortable challenges, forging a sense of purpose to guide every year that follows.”

  • Connect 1-2-3 (Intern and volunteer in extraordinary cities around the world): This team listens to your individual requirements, then explores relevant options, and ultimately connects you with a uniquely rewarding experience, individually tailored to provide you with the richest, most enjoyable learning possible.

  • Where There be Dragons: Dragons is a global community representing 6 continents and countless languages, villages, NGOs, religions, host families, and perspectives. Dragons offers summer and semester programs in 19 countries, each one custom-crafted by instructor teams who bring their unique vision and expertise to the course design. Their goal is to help participants develop the self-awareness and cross-cultural competencies to be active participants in the world.

  • EF Gap Year Programs: Travel the world, learn a new language, serve a good cause, gain internship experience in your future career, and develop your leadership abilities. With EF, you can choose between a gap year of 26 weeks and a gap semester of 12 weeks.  

    These are just a few! Explore the endless opportunities that might be a good fit for YOU.