Gap years are a concept severely misunderstood in the American school system. Most people view a gap year between high school graduation and the first year of college to be a mistake — a huge blunder on the part of the student that will set them back for years to come. We view anyone who is college aged as an enrolled student and when we learn otherwise we usually treat them with great distaste. Take a year off to work and earn money for college? To find your purpose in life and explore your interests and hobbies? For your own health? For your family? None of this matters if people judge your actions before they understand your circumstances. Gap years are considered a waste of time, no matter the reason.
There are many benefits to gap years that are commonly ignored. In America, students who take a gap year could use that time to develop their identity as a person through travel and trials. By building their maturity, self-awareness, global awareness and self-confidence — all things that come from travelling and working towards a personal goal — their dedication to the life they choose afterward would be stronger than students who entered college right after high school.
The gap year could also be used to rest. This is commonly where we encounter the “lazy” stereotype that plagues our generation and those to come. We’re tired from school. We’re expected to study for tests, do our homework and work a part-time job all while finding time to socialize with friends and volunteer to build our résumé. Instead of diving straight into the rush of university without taking a break after completing high school — something that used to be considered the greatest accomplishment of American youth — a gap year can be used to rejuvenate the body and revive a student’s passion for learning. After a gap year, a student can take on college classes with new energy and sense of purpose.
The United Kingdom is famous for encouraging their students to take a gap year before entering university programs. Students take advantage of this year by getting jobs or traveling, often preparing themselves for embarking on the new chapter of their lives by earning experience or learning more about themselves.
The gap year concept is only beginning to gain popularity in the U.S. Our school systems often penalize gap years. High school students lose out on vital scholarships if they don’t apply for college during their senior year. Many who take time off between school face social judgement for being lazy and listless. Our common mindset is against gap years, claiming that they lead to a falling out from academic life and less investment in the future as a result. A gap year is also considered dangerous for working students, who may grow accustomed to earning money instead of spending it on tuition. They may be called expensive for traveling students, who might spend their college savings on their soul-searching trips.
We should make the option of gap years available to our children. By giving teenagers more say in this vital year of their lives, instead of a choice between work or more school, we can help them grow as people and even grow into themselves as adults. Ultimately, your opinion on the gap year should not affect the way you treat young people working or taking time for themselves before school. It’s their life — not yours.