4 Benefits of Taking a Gap Year for Students

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4 Benefits of Taking a Gap Year for Students

Does your high school student need more life experiences before college? Learn how a gap year may be able to help.

A gap year is a year of self discovery, usually taken between high school and college, that is designed to give a student a chance to pursue a series of life experiences.  It can take place over several months or a year and usually involves a combination of volunteering, working/interning, and studying in the US or abroad. The two main reasons students participate in a gap year are :  1). students feel a need to take a break from formal education (they are burned out), and 2). they want to learn more about themselves. Other reasons students take a gap year are to help pay for college, develop skills, explore a potential career path, become more mature and focus and learn more about the world.  What can a student do during a gap year? Students can teach classes, build houses, work or intern in a variety of occupations, participate in scientific research, study languages, participate in the arts, work with animals, help in a medical facility, and join a nonprofit organization world-wide.  The list is endless! So what are the benefits of a gap year have for students?

1. Research Shows Higher GPA After Gap Year

Students who complete a structured gap year program are 90 percent likely to attend a higher education institution within one year and are more likely to graduate within four years than their peers. They report a reignited passion for learning and the ability to connect formal education with real-world experiences.  For most students, gap year experiences have an impact on their choice of academic major and career – either setting them on a different path than before a gap year or confirming their direction. Several colleges have tracked the grades of gap students and reported that they tended to have higher GPAs than the non-gap year students.  Harvard is so high on the benefits of a gap year that it’s been proposing this opportunity in the acceptance letters for decades. Princeton University launched a bridge-year program in 2009 that allows admitted students to participate in nine months of university-sponsored service work at one of four international locations.

2. Clearer Focus Increases Odds of 4 Year Graduation Rate

College-Graduate-After-Gap-YearMore often than not, college students commit themselves to one area of study, realize it’s not for them, and then swap to a completely different college major.  You’ll cut down on coursework, tuition bills and stress if you take time before college to decide which role in the “real world” is most appealing to you.

3. Greater odds of getting internships and jobs

During the gap year students choose programs that include volunteering, community service, language immersion, conservation and sustainability, adventure travel, outdoor and wilderness activities and fine art and media.   Following a gap year, students tend to develop employable skills through their experiences -e.g., leadership, problem solving and teamwork.  Many  gap year students report that their time away from school gives them a leg up with employers when applying for internships and jobs.  My favorite book detailing gap year experiences is written by Monika Lutz called Now What?:  How a Gap Year of International Internships Prepared Me for College, Career, and Life.

4. Global Awareness

Of the gap year participates 69% volunteered, studied, worked or interned and /or traveled abroad.  More than 80% of gap year students saw themselves as more globally aware as a result of their gap year.  They reported that the benefits included gaining an in-depth awareness of how people live in other cultures, the importance and advantage of learning a second language, identifying career options offered internationally, understanding the impact of globalization and discovering what we have in common with other countries, regardless of culture.

Sometimes parents and teenagers are misguided in the belief that a gap year program is a vacation. Quite the contrary, most gap year programs focus on education, volunteer and community service work, and personal growth.  Students learn outside the classroom, engage with the world, give back to others, and discover the concept that with privilege comes responsibility.  For more resources Teen Life provides a guide to Steps to Planning the Perfect Gap Year.  College2Career  works with gap year students by utilizing several career assessments that bring to light one’s natural aptitudes, interests and values and then incorporate their gap year experiences into choosing a college major and ultimately a career!

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About the Author:

Molly Carey Smith, M.A. is a career counselor who specializes in providing career assessments to help high school and college students identify college majors and career options and to help young adults transition more effectively in a new role or career. The Highlands Ability Battery, The Strong Interest Inventory and The Rutger's Value Assessment are the perfect tools to identify which college major and career options are the best fit. The more knowledge you have about yourself the more effective your life and career decisions will be. To contact Molly -