When word broke that U.S. President Obama’s oldest daughter Malia was heading off to college, the world went nuts. But it wasn’t just because she was following her dad’s footsteps and going to Harvard. It was because she announced she would be taking a gap year before attending. Gap years, which are very common in Europe and South America, is time taken off between graduating high school and going to college. It usually lasts a year or two, and like the decision to go back to school right away, has some major pros and cons. Here’s what you should consider if you’re thinking of following Malia's lead.
Pros of Taking a Gap Year
Take a Break
Let’s start with a question: After eight years of elementary school and four high school, how do you really feel? You’re almost certainly stressed, tired, and not really “in” it. That’s what gap year is for! It’s all about taking time for yourself to refresh your batteries and put the brakes on the formal learning process.
Gap years can also be informative. In Europe, most students use this time to travel and see the world. If gap year is for you, consider saving up for a backpack adventure with a friend or a road trip around the United States. You may find a whole side of life you never knew was out there -- and you won’t have to wait four years to do it.
It’s also customary to use a gap year to volunteer. Take on a big project locally or travel abroad to go really large with your giving. Making a difference while you kick back looks amazing on a resume or college application.
But if volunteering isn’t for you, start your career early with an entry-level position. Save this income to pay off the next few year’s tuition in advance. You’ll thank yourself when your friends get their first student loan bills in the mail.
Cons of a Gap Year
Most schools in the United States are still not used to gap schools and are not in the position to give you an admissions answer a year in advance. You may have to do over the application process again or, if possible, ask for deferred admission.
Being Behind Schedule
Your friends will graduate before you. They’ll likely get jobs before you as well or move out of the house earlier. If you’re worried about missing out on those experiences or sticking with the normal timeline, a gap year isn’t for you.
You Might Not Want to Go Back
This is where it helps to know yourself. If you’re not that motivated to go to college (but need to anyway for your career), taking a gap year can be dangerous. At worst, it can take away the incentive to go back to school. Sometimes taking time off can cause us to procrastinate or help obstacles and distractions, such as a decent paying job, get in our way.
You’ll Need to Explain
While it most likely won’t happen, a future interviewer may notice the gap between college and a job. It may also come up when re-applying for school. However, you can always show the pros above to convince them that this was the plan for you and that you made the most of your gap year.